William Butler Yeats was born on the 13th of June 1865 in Sandymount, Co.
His mother came from a wealthy family in County Sligo. His father was a
descendant of Jervis Yeats, a Williamite soldier.
After his birth, the family moved to Merville in Sligo.
William was the eldest of four children. He had one brother and two
sisters; John, Elizabeth and Susan Mary.
The Yeats family were very artistic. In 1867, they moved to London so that
his father could develop his career as an artist.
The Yeats children were educated at home throughout their early years.
In 1880, the family returned to live in Ireland, living at first in the suburbs
of Harold's Cross and later in Howth.
In 1881, Yeats went to school at Dublin's Erasmus Smith High
School. He was fascinated by biology and zoology.
Yeats’ father's studio was near his school and William spent a lot of time there.
Here he met many of the city's artists and writers.
At this time, he started writing poetry. In 1885, a newspaper called the Dublin
University Review published Yeats’ first poems.
Between 1884 and 1886, William attended the Metropolitan School of Art on
Thomas Street in Dublin. This is now called the National College of Art and Design.
His first known works were written when he was seventeen.
His first significant poem was called “The Isle of Statues”. The piece appeared in the
Dublin University Review.
His first solo publication was the pamphlet Mosada: A Dramatic Poem. It was
published in 1886.
In 1889, Yeats met Maud Gonne. She was a twenty-three year old English heiress
and Irish Nationalist.
Yeats instantly fell in love with Gonne and she became a significant inspiration to a
lot of his poetry.
Yeats proposed to her a total of four times but she rejected him.
She later married Major John Mac Bride in 1903, much to Yeats’ devastation.
Many of his poems describe his unrequited love for Maud, such as “He Wishes for
the Cloths of Heaven”.
The Yeats family spent their summer holidays in Sligo every year and lived there
between 1872 and 1874.
The beautiful scenery became the inspiration for a great deal of his poetry (eg: “An
Acre of Grass”).
The tranquil environment in Sligo’s countryside also allowed Yeats to really focus on
Some of Yeats’ later poetry was inspired by the occult and spiritualism.
These poems were very imaginative (eg: “A Dialogue Between Self and
Yeats had very strong opinions on national issues such as the 1913 Lockout
and the 1916 Rising. This is evident in his poem, “September 1913”. He
supported the striking workers.
Yeats is one of the most famous English language poets of the Twentieth Century.
He was a Symbolist poet. This means that he used allusive imagery and symbols
throughout his career.
Yeats often wrote very ambiguous poetry that had both an obvious and an abstract
meaning. His poems suggest other thoughts and messages that are more abstract
and that may seem more significant.
We see this in his poem “The Wild Swans at Coole”. The obvious meaning of this
poem is that the flock of swans always fly together and never leave one swan
behind. However, Yeats uses the symbol of the swan to portray a more abstract
message that he is lonely and he envies the companionable swans.
In 1890, Yeats founded the Rhymer’s Club so that he could meet with other poets
and discuss ideas. He always encouraged young poets.
Yeats, Lady Gregory and others set up The Irish National Theatre Society in 1903 to
perform plays with distinctly Irish themes.
This led to the establishment of the Abbey Theatre in 1904.
In 1903, Yeats embarked on his first lecture tour of the USA.
In 1912, Yeats met Georgie Hyde Lees. They married on the 20th October 1917.
Yeats and Georgie later had two children, Anne and Michael.
In December 1923, Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature .
Yeats died in France on 28 January 1939.
His epitaph is taken from the last lines of "Under Ben Bulben", one of his final
Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!
Our Trip to the Yeats Exhibition
On Thursday 14th November, we went to the National Library in Dublin to
visit the William Butler Yeats Exhibition. It provided lots of information
about the life and works of Yeats. There were lots of pictures and many of
Yeats’ poems displayed on the walls. There were some small separate
rooms in the exhibition that showed important places in Yeats’ life, such as
the Abbey Theatre and his own study. There were also two interactive
touch screen computers that provided easy access to extra information.
The exhibit was very informative.