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My Life: W. B. Yeats


W. B. Yeats

William Yeats was born on 13th June 1865 in County Dublin, Ireland, to parents John Butler Yeats (Lawyer & Artist) and Susan Mary Pallexfen.

Yeats grew up in the latter years of the 19th century, as Ireland was going through a nationalist revival at the time.  In his quest for answers, he became a member of the Protestant Ascendancy.

In 1867, the family left Ireland and settled in England, where he was home educated, until he attended Godolphin School in 1877.  He remained there, until the family returned to Dublin, in the latter months of 1880.

Yeats continued his education at “Erasmus Smith High School.  His interests were of an artistic slant, and would spend much time at his father’s art studio, and there he met, many of Dublin’s artists and writers.  From 1884-86 attended the Metropolitan School of Art.

With such influence, it wasn’t long before he put pen to paper, and started writing poems.  In 1885 he published an essay “The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson” along with his own poems in the Dublin University Review.

His early years were much influenced by Percy Shelley, and later the writings of William Blake, whom he paid tribute to.

In 1887, the family left Ireland and settled in London, and that year produced his first volume of verse.  Then joined The Theosophical Society.  It was his mysticism which drew him to them, for he was a visionary, and liked surrounding himself with poetic images.

It was during this time he studied the prophetic books of William Blake, which led him to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist, theologian and philosopher, which would influence his own writings.

In 1890 with Ernest Rhys they founded the Rhymers Club, later renamed as the Tragic Generation, a group of London based poets.  In 1892 and 1894 published two anthologies of verse.

In 1889 Yeats met Maud Gonne, and fell in love with her at first glance, but it was not reciprocated, for she admired him, but never loved him.  Her passion was not for Yeats, but for Ireland, for she was a patriot and rebel for her native Ireland.  Yeats joined the Nationalist cause, partly believing in the cause, but mostly because of Maud.  For he could not get her out of his mind, he was besotted with her.

In 1891 Charles Stewart Parnell the then Irish leader died, and it was from then, that his interest in politics waned.

When his play “Cathleen ni Houlihan” was performed in Dublin (1902), Maud Gonne played the title role.

Yeats wrote many plays, and those he will be most remembered for would be: The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), The King’s Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907).  In 1910 he changed his direction, experimenting with the use of dance and music in his plays.

The “Wanderings of Osin” a collection of his early works, showed the pride he had in his poems, and showed off the situation he found himself in.  It was as though his soul was crying out for release.

In 1898 Yeats came into contact with Augusta Gregory, who would become a playwright and a lifelong friend.  He would spend his summers at her home at Coole Park, County Galway.  He bought a ruined Norman castle; Thoor Ballylee, and this building would become a dominant feature in many of his poems, often referred to as The Tower.

The heartache of his love for Maud Gonne continued to cause him much pain, and in 1899 asked her once again, to marry him, but her answer was the same as in previous proposals… No.

Yeats along with Lady Gregory started the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899, and he remained a director for the rest of his life.  The first performance was “The Countess Cathleen” and many more of his plays were performed there.

Yeats published much poetry during his lifetime, such as Poems (1895), The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), these works contained dreamlike and atmospheric expression based on the use of Irish Folklore and Legends.

In 1903, his one true love Maud Gonne, married Major John MacBride, for they shared a love of their native Ireland and hated the English oppression.  In 1916, he was executed, by the British Government, as one of the rebels in the Easter Rising.

In 1903 he published his collection; The Seven Woods, and The Green Helmet (1910), containing esoteric influences.

In 1911, Yeats became a member of “The Ghost Club” for those interested in paranormal research.

During the period 1909-1914, there was a major shift in his poetry; a tightening of his individual verse lines, and a new direction, confronting reality…

In 1917, he published “The Wild Swans at Coole” believing he had reached the pinnacle of his career, with renewed inspiration in his works.  That same year he proposed to Miss George Hyde-Lees, and they were married later that year.  They had two children; Anne Butler Yeats (1919), and William Michael Yeats (1921).

The Irish Free State was founded in 1922, and Yeats became a member of the Irish Senate.  In 1923 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In 1928 “The Tower” was published, named after the ruined castle; Thoor Ballylee in County Galway, which he had subsequently restored.

William Butler Yeats died on 28th January 1939 aged 74, whilst in Roquebrune, France.  He was initially buried in France, and then following the Second World War, arrangements were made in 1948, to have his body exhumed, and buried at Sligo in his native country; at a Protestant Churchyard in Drumcliffe, Ireland.

(Image) W.B.Yeats: Wikipedia


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