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Into the Mystic: Prepare to discover/rediscover the great WB Yeats in Her Secret Rose by Orna Ross

On the flight over to Ireland this weekend, I was reading The Secret Rose, a strange and wonderful collection of stories by William Butler Yeats. One of the many lines that leapt off the page:

"...the dreamers who must do what they dream, the doers who must dream what they do."

The words find new context in Her Secret Rose by Orna Ross, the first in a trilogy of novels about young Willie Yeats and Maud Gonne, a British heiress, change agent, mystic seeker and champion of Irish civil rights.

Gonne was the muse that catalyzed Yeats' career as she became the object of his unrequited passion/obsession. Their political and personal lives were intimately entwined; they were kindred spirits, soul mates, and partners in a long journey of spiritual exploration that included mind-altering drugs and secret occult rituals.

But Maud had another life, another love, that Willie knew nothing about, and inevitably, the two worlds would collide. With great insight, wit, lyrical skill and deep-dive research, Orna Ross transports readers to an extraordinary moment in the history of Ireland and allows us to see it through the eyes of two people whose passion for justice and poetry changed the world.

Limited edition hardcover with Gyles cover design
As a literary artist and publishing industry revolutionary, Ross is a modern day dreamer and doer named twice to Bookseller's list of the 100 Most Influential People in publishing. In honor of the Yeats Sesquicentennial, she's created a special edition of Her Secret Rose bound in one volume with The Secret Rose by WB Yeats. The new limited edition hardcover features the spectacular original cover design created for The Secret Rose by Yeats' friend, artist Althea Gyles, and includes two stories the original publisher insisted on removing from the first edition, though Yeats intended them to be read as part of the collection.

I was thrilled to participate in this project as the editor of Her Secret Rose, and I'm in Ireland to celebrate the book's official launch tonight at the Yeats Memorial Building in Sligo.

I've spent the past few days tromping the green hillsides, exploring the ancient burial sites at Carrowmore, and eavesdropping on musical Irish dialog in the pubs. For me, this experience has been uniquely rich because the poetry and mystic prose of Yeats is resonating through it all. On a bus somewhere between Shannon and Knock, listening to the lively conversations of young and old people around me, I suddenly realized that the voice heard throughout this novel is the voice of Ireland. It's verdant and proud, with a unique melody, hard-won wisdom and wry humor.

I always loved the idea of Ireland. This book finally brought me here. I always loved the idea of Yeats, the firebrand poet. This book brought me to his life and work in a way that made it vibrant, meaningful and completely, timelessly relevant.


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