Althea Gyles: Irish Woman Poet

A Gyles
Gyles, on the right, with Constance Markiewicz.

Althea Gyles (1868 – 1949) was born into a very respectable family in Waterford and became one of the most colourful figures of the colourful 1890s. She studied art in Dublin and them moved to London, where she joined the Order of the Golden Dawn, entered a ‘scandalous’ relationship with notorious publisher Leonard Smithers and possibly took Aleister Crowley as her lover. She provided cover designs for The Secret Rose, Poems, and The Wind Among the Reeds by Yeats and, Ernest Dowson’s Decorations in Verse and Prose. Yeats thought very highly of her, both as painter and poet. Introducing ‘Sympathy’ in XXX he wrote:

Miss ALTHEA GYLES may come to be one of the most important of the little group of Irish poets who seek to express indirectly through myths and symbols, or directly in little lyrics full of prayers and lamentations, the desire of the soul for spiritual beauty and happiness. She has done, besides the lyric I quote, which is charming in form and substance, a small number of poems full of original symbolism and spiritual ardour, though as yet lacking in rhythmical subtlety. Her drawings and book-covers, in which precise symbolism never interferes with beauty of design, are as yet her most satisfactory expression of herself.

Arthur Symonds arranged to have Duckworth publish her verse, but she refused to remove a dedication to ‘the beautiful memory of Oscar Wilde’, so the book was withdrawn.

SYMPATHY

THE colour gladdens all your heart;
You call it Heaven, dear, but I
Now Hope and I are far apart
Call it the sky.

I know that Natures tears have wet
The world with sympathy ; but you,
Who know not any sorrow yet,
Call it the dew.

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