W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats, the son of the artist, John Butler Yeats (1839-1922) was born in Sandymount, Ireland, in 1865. The family moved to London in 1867 and Yeats was educated at Godolphin School in Hammersmith.

In 1884 Yeats entered the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin and at the Contemporary Club he met William Morris and John O'Leary, the Fenian leader. In 1885 his first poetry was published in the Dublin University Review. His first volume of verse, Mosada, appeared in 1886. He also edited and contributed to an anthology of Irish poets, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888).

Yeats returned to London and began to have his poems published in English and American magazines. His literary friends at this time included William Morris, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.

In 1889 Yeats met and fell in love with the Irish nationalist, Maud Gonne. Later that year he published The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems. This was followed by John Sherman and Dhoya (1892), the play The Countess Kathleen (1892), a collection of stories and legends, The Celtic Twilight (1893) and the drama The Land of Heart's Desire that was produced in London in 1894.

With George Moore Yeats helped establish the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899. Plays such as Cathleen ni Houlihan, with Maud Gonne in the title role, first appeared at this venue. In 1904 Yeats and J. M. Synge became joint directors of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Collected Works in Prose and Verse was published in 1906. Other work during this period included The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910) and Responsibilities (1914).

Yeats did not take part in the Easter Rising. However, he knew several of the executed rebels and wrote Easter, 1916 in September of that year. This was followed by The Wild Swans at Coole (1919) and Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921).

After the foundation of the Irish Free State he became a member of Irish Senate and in 1923 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In 1928 Yeats moved to Rapallo in Italy where he published The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1933). William Butler Yeats died at Cap Martin in 1938 and was buried in Roquebrune, France. His coffin was disinterred and taken to Ireland in 1948.

Primary Sources

(1) W. B. Yeats, Easter 1916 (September, 1916)

We know their dream; enough

To know they dreamed and are dead;

And what if excess of love

Bewildered them till they died?

I write it out in a verse.

MacDonagh and MacBride

And Connolly and Pearse

Now and in time to be,

Wherever green is worn

Are changed, changed utterly

A terrible beauty is born.