George William Russell (10 April 1867 – 17 July 1935) who wrote under the pseudonym Æ (sometimes written AE or A.E.), was an Irish nationalist, writer, editor, critic, poet, and painter. He was also a mystical writer, and centre of a group of followers of theosophy in Dublin, for many years.
Russell was born in Lurgan, County Armagh. His family moved to Dublin when he was eleven. He was educated at Rathmines School and the Metropolitan School of Art, where he began a lifelong friendship with William Butler Yeats. He started working as a draper’s clerk, then worked many years for the Irish Agricultural Organization Society (IAOS), an agricultural co-operative movement founded by Horace Plunkett in 1894. The two came together in 1897 when the co-operative movement was eight years old. Plunkett needed an able organiser and W. B. Yeats suggested Russell, who became Assistant Secretary of the IAOS.
He was an able lieutenant and travelled extensively throughout Ireland as a spokesman for the society, mainly responsible for developing the credit societies and establishing co-operative banks in the south and west of the country whose numbers rose to 234 by 1910. The pair made a good team, with each gaining much from the association with the other.
Russell was editor from 1905-1923 of The Irish Homestead, the journal of the IAOS, and infused it with the vitality that made it famous half the world over. His gifts as a writer and publicist gained him a wide influence in the cause of agricultural co-operation. He was also editor of the The Irish Statesman from 15 September 1923 until 12 April 1930. He used the pseudonym "AE", or more properly, "Æ". This derived from an earlier Æ'on signifying the lifelong quest of man, subsequently shortened.
His first book of poems, Homeward: Songs by the Way (1894), established him in what was known as the Irish Literary Revival, where Æ met the young James Joyce in 1902 and introduced him to other Irish literary figures, including William Butler Yeats, to whom he was close. He appears as a character in the "Scylla and Charybdis" episode of Joyce's Ulysses, where he dismisses Stephen's theories on Shakespeare. His collected poems appeared in 1913, with a second edition in 1926.
His house in Rathgar Avenue in Dublin became a meeting-place at the time for everyone interested in the economic and artistic future of Ireland. His interests were wide-ranging; he became a theosophist and wrote extensively on politics and economics, while continuing to paint and write poetry. Æ claimed to be a clairvoyant, able to view various kinds of spiritual beings, which he illustrated in paintings and drawings. The keynote of his work may be found in a motto from the Bhagavadgita prefixed to one of his earlier poems I am Beauty itself among beautiful things.
He moved to England after his wife’s death in 1932 and died in Bournemouth in 1935. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. An active Irish nationalist, he edited the Irish Homestead (1904–23), where he published James Joyce’s The Sisters, and the Irish Statesman (1923–30), where he published Patrick Kavanagh’s early poems. He worked with Sir Horace Plunkett for Irish agricultural improvement, and he was also a talented amateur painter - the American collector John Quinn commissioned him to paint William Butler Yeats in 1902.
His main subject, however, was mysticism. Russell was one of the major writers in the Irish Literary Renaissance. Among his poetry collections are Homeward: Songs by the Way (1894); The Earth Breath (1897); The Divine Vision (1904); Collected Poems (London, MacMillan, 1913/New York, John Lane, 1916); Salutation (1917) The House of the Titans (1934); and Selected Poems (1935). His mystical writings include The Candle of Vision (1918); The Avatars (1933); The Interpreters (1922); and Song and its Fountains (1932). His Collected works are published by Colin Symthe, Bucks. UK
Age and Youth
WE have left our youth behind:
Earth is in its baby years:
Void of wisdom cries the wind,
And the sunlight knows no tears.
When shall twilight feel the awe,
All the rapt thought of the sage,
And the lips of wind give law
Drawn from out their lore of age?
When shall earth begin to burn
With such love as thrills my breast?
When shall we together turn
To our long, long home for rest?
ild and father, we grow old
While you laugh and play with flowers;
And life’s tale for us is told
Holding only empty hours.
Giant child, on you await
All the hopes and fears of men.
In thy fulness is our fate—
What till then, oh, what till then?