Here at ConnollyCove, we love all things literature. Continue reading to discover the life, success and journey of poet William Butler Yeats.

W. B. Yeats | Life (1865-1939)

William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats Sourced from yeats2015

William Butler Yeats is the son of acclaimed artist John Butler Yeats. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1839. Initially, an aspiring artist, taking the family path. As an adult, he abandons this for a love of literature and writing. As a result of this decision, he became one of Ireland’s most beloved writers.

In 1867 Yeats’ family moved to London to encourage John’s career as an artist. The family returned to Dublin in 1881, Yeats then resumed attendance at Dublin’s Erasmus Smith High School. While studying here, Yeats often visited his father’s art studio. This lead to his discovery of the arts.

Due to this time spent in the studio, Yeats began his journey as a poet. His first published poems appeared in the Dublin’s University Review in 1885, along with an essay The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson. As a result of his love of poetry and clear talents, young Yeats then attended the Metropolitan School of Art from 1884 until 1886. After this education, Yeats discovered that he should actively pursue literature, rather than following his father into art.

In 1888 the family moved to London, the following year W. B. Yeats’ “The Wanderings of Oisin” was published. This marks the beginning of Yeats’ journey to become a Nobel Laureate.

While in London, Yeats joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. At the first meeting of his organisation, Yeats was the chairperson. He had a lot of interest in the supernatural and astrology. Since a boy, Yeats had always had an interest in and read about these subjects.

Leading to Yeats becoming a member of the paranormal research organisation The Ghost Club. Without his interest in the supernatural, many of his works would not have been created, such as Countess Cathleen. Even after the disbanding of the Golden Dawn, Yeats remained a member of the Stella Matutina until 1921.

In March 1890 Yeats co-founded the Rhymers’ Club along with Ernest Rhys: a group of young writers who met in a tavern to share their poems.

In 1889 Yeats met Maud Gonne. He became an important figure in both Yeats’ life and literature. In 1891 he proposed to her, however, she declined. Later, proposed three more times, and was refused each time. Yeats was disgusted when she married another and converted to Catholicism.  When the marriage ended, Gonne visited Yeats in London. Although they were no longer friends, in 1908, Yeats and Gonne consummated their love affair.

Yeats was introduced to Lady Gregory in 1896 by Edward Martyn. She had an effect on his writing as she encouraged him towards nationalism and writing drama. Through his connection to many Irish authors, he became actively involved in the Irish Literary Revival.

Yeats wrote plays to be performed in the Irish Literary Theatre.  As did Lady Gregory, Edward Martin and George Moore. This continued for two years (from 1899), however, was not successful. After this failure, Yeats, along with others, established the Irish National Theatre Society and opened the Abbey Theatre. Yeats remained involved with this until his death.

To encourage the Irish Literary Revival, in 1902, Yeats helped found the Dun Emer Press, to publish the work of the revivalists. It later became the Cuala Press (1904) and from then was run by Yeats’ two sisters.

Yeats proposed to the young Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917. He had met her through a former lover, Olivia Shakespear. Their marriage was successful and they had two children. Yeats later engaged in affairs with other women.

In December 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature:

“The Nobel Prize in Literature 1923 was awarded to William Butler Yeats “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

– The nobel foundation

Yeats died in Menton, France, on 28th January 1939 at the age of 73. Yeats was buried at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. He was later moved to St Columba’s Church in Sligo (September 1948) as he had requested.

Writing

Throughout Yeats career as a writer, he used allusive imagery and symbolism. Throughout his life work his main interests of nationalism, Irish mythology and the supernatural are prominent.

Yeats’ first significant publication was “The Island of Statues”. Becoming a series in the Dublin University Press. This series was too long to be republished as his first collection. The first time it was republished was in 2014. This made his pamphlet “Mosada: A Dramatic Poem” his first official publication in 1886. Following this was his first collection of poems “The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems”.

This first collection of poems took inspiration from Irish mythology. Another interest of Yeats. This collection took two years to complete and is one of the only pieces of work he did not disown as an adult.

Throughout Yeats life, he wrote, in total, 9 dramas, 8 collections of poetry and 32 poems.

Legacy

There is a statue of Yeats in Sligo town commemorating the famous writer, on the corner of Stephen Street and Markievicz Road.

The Yeats Building can also be found in Sligo on Hyde Bridge. It is an exhibit on Yeats’ life.

His literary works are still studied today in schools and universities across the world.

Fun Facts

Yeats was tone-deaf

With his wife, Georgie Hyde-Lees, Yeats had two children named: Michael and Anne

Yeats was appointed Irish senate in 1922 and reelected in 1925

In 1924 Yeats was appointed a member of a coinage committee. In charge of selecting designs for the first set of coins for the Irish Free State.

Yeats was the first Irish person to be awarded a Nobel Prize

His brother, Jack Butler Yeats, was the first Irish Olympic medalist

 

If you enjoyed learning about the life of William Butler Yeats, please enjoy more articles about famous Irish writers:

Lady Gregory: An Often Overlooked Author | James Joyce: His Life, Work and LegacyFamous Irish Authors Who Helped Promote Irish Tourism | Two Authors | One Man | John Banville | Dublin’s Writer Museum, Dublin CitySeamus Heaney: His Life | His Work | His Successes

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