Yeats, Dublin, January 24th, 1908. Portrait by Alvin Langdon Coburn
in Men of Mark (1913).
Born June 13, 1865 Dublin, Ireland
Died January 28, 1939 Menton, France
(June 13, 1865 – January 28, 1939) was an Irish poet, dramatist,
mystic and public figure. Yeats was one of the driving forces behind
the Irish Literary Revival and was co-founder of the Abbey Theatre.
work tended towards a romantic lushness and fantasy-like quality best
described by the title of his 1893 collection The Celtic Twilight, but
in his 40s, inspired by his relationships with modernist poets such
as Ezra Pound and his active involvement in Irish nationalist politics,
he moved towards a harder, more modern style.
As well as
his role as member of the board of the Abbey, Yeats served as an Irish
Senator. He took his role as a public figure seriously and was a reasonably
hard-working member of the Seanad. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for
literature in 1923 for what the Nobel Committee described as "his
always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression
to the spirit of a whole nation". In 1934 he shared the Gothenburg
Prize for Poetry with Rudyard Kipling.
born in Sandymount, Dublin. His father, John Butler Yeats was descended
from Jervis Yeats, a Williamite linen merchant who died in 1712 and
whose grandson Benjamin married Mary Butler, daughter of a landed County
Kildare family. At the time of his marriage, John Yeats was studying
law, but soon abandoned his studies to take up a career as a portrait
painter. His mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen, came from an Anglo-Irish
family in County Sligo. Soon after his birth, Yeats moved to Sligo to
stay with his extended family and he came to think of it as his true
childhood home. The Butler Yeats family were highly artistic; William's
brother Jack went on to be a well-known painter and his sisters Elizabeth
and Susan were both involved in the Arts and Crafts movement.
the family moved to London to enable John to further his career. At
first, the Yeats children were educated at home. Their mother, who was
homesick for Sligo, entertained them with stories and folktales from
her native county. In 1877, William entered the Godolphin school, which
he attended for four years. He appears not to have enjoyed the experience
and did not distinguish himself academically. For financial reasons,
the family returned to Dublin towards the end of 1880, living at first
in the city center and later in the suburb of Howth.
1881, Yeats resumed his education at the Erasmus Smith High School,
Dublin. His father's studio was located nearby and he spent a great
deal of time there, meeting many of the city's artists and writers.
He remained at the high school until December 1883. It was during this
period that he started writing poetry and in 1885, Yeats' first poems,
as well as an essay called "The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson",
were published in the Dublin University Review. From 1884 to 1886, he
attended the Metropolitan School of Art (now the National College of
Art and Design) in Kildare Street.
he began to write poetry, Yeats had come to associate poetry with religious
ideas and sentiments. Describing his childhood in later years, he described
his "one unshakable belief" as "whatever of philosophy
has been made poetry is alone... I thought... that if a powerful and
benevolent spirit has shaped the destiny of this world, we can better
discover that destiny from the words that have gathered up the heart's
desire of the world."
poetry drew heavily on Irish myth and folklore and drew on the diction
and colouring of pre-Raphaelite verse. His major influence in these
years - and probably throughout the rest of his career as well - was
Percy Bysshe Shelley. In a late essay on Shelley he wrote, "I have
re-read Prometheus Unbound... and it seems to me to have an even more
certain place than I had thought among the sacred books of the world."
significant poem was The Isle of Statues, a fantasy work that took Edmund
Spenser for its poetic model. It appeared in Dublin University Review
and was never republished. His first book publication was the pamphlet
Mosada: A Dramatic Poem (1886), which had already appeared in the same
journal, and this printing of 100 copies was paid for by his father.
Following this was The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889). The
long title poem, the first that he would not disown in his maturity,
was based on the poems of the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. This
poem, which took two years to complete, shows the influence of Ferguson
and the Pre-Raphaelites. It introduced what was to become one of his
most important themes: the appeal of the life of contemplation vs. the
appeal of the life of action. After The Wanderings of Oisin, he never
attempted another long poem. His other early poems are lyrics on the
themes of love or mystical and esoteric subjects.
family had returned to London in 1887, and in 1890 Yeats co-founded
the Rhymer's Club with Ernest Rhys. This was a group of like-minded
poets who met regularly and published anthologies in 1892 and 1894.
Other early collections include Poems (1895), The Secret Rose (1897)
and The Wind Among the Reeds (1899).
In 1889, Yeats
met Maud Gonne, a young heiress who was beginning to devote herself
to the Irish nationalist movement. Gonne admired Yeats' early poem The
Isle of Statues and sought out his acquaintance. Yeats developed an
obsessive infatuation with Gonne, and she was to have a significant
effect on his poetry and his life ever after. Two years after their
initial meeting, Yeats proposed to her, but was rejected. He was to
propose to Gonne a total of three more times: in 1899, 1900 and 1901.
With each proposal, she rejected Yeats and finally, in 1903, married
Irish nationalist John MacBride. This same year Yeats left for an extended
stay in America on a lecture tour. His only other affair during this
period was with an Olivia Shakespeare, whom he met in 1896 and parted
with one year later.
Also in 1896,
he was introduced to Lady Augusta Gregory by their mutual friend Edward
Martyn and she encouraged Yeats' nationalism and convinced him to continue
focusing on writing drama. Although he was influenced by French Symbolism,
Yeats consciously focused on an identifiably Irish content and this
inclination was reinforced by his involvement with a new generation
of younger and emerging Irish authors. Together with Lady Gregory and
Martyn and other writers including J M Synge, Sean O'Casey, Padraic
Colum and James Stephens, Yeats was one of those responsible for the
establishment of the literary movement known as the Irish Literary Revival
(otherwise known as the Celtic Revival).
these creative writers, much of the impetus for the Revival came from
the work of scholarly translators who were aiding in the discovery of
both the ancient sagas and Ossianic poetry and the more recent folk
song tradition in Irish. One of the most significant of these was Douglas
Hyde, later the first President of Ireland, whose Love Songs of Connacht
was widely admired.
One of the
enduring achievements of the Revival was the setting up of the Abbey
Theatre. In 1899 Yeats, Lady Gregory, Martyn and George Moore founded
the Irish Literary Theatre. This survived for about two years but was
not successful. However, working together with two Irish brothers with
theatrical experience named William and Frank Fay and Yeats' unpaid
secretary Annie Elizabeth Fredericka Horniman (a wealthy Englishwoman
who had previously been involved in the presentation of George Bernard
Shaw's Arms and the Man in London in 1894) the group established the
Irish National Theatre Society. This group of founders was also able,
along with J M Synge, to acquire property in Dublin and open the Abbey
Theatre on December 27, 1904. Two of Yeats' plays were featured on the
opening night. Yeats continued to be involved with the Abbey up to his
death, both as a member of the board and as a prolific playwright.
In 1902, Yeats
helped set up the Dun Emer Press to publish work by writers associated
with the Revival. This became the Cuala Press in 1904. From then until
its closure in 1946, the press, which was run by the poet's sisters,
produced over 70 titles, 48 of them books by Yeats himself. Yeats spent
the summer of 1917 with Maud Gonne, and proposed to Gonne's daughter,
Iseult, but was rejected. In September, he proposed to Georgie Hyde-Lees,
was accepted, and the two were married on 20 October. Around this time
he also bought Ballylee Castle, near Coole Park, and promptly renamed
it Thoor Ballylee. This tower served as his summer home for much of
the rest of his life.
Yeats had a life-long interest in mysticism, spiritualism, and astrology.
In 1885, he and some friends formed the Dublin Hermetic Order. This
society held its first meeting on June 16, with Yeats in the chair.
The same year, the Dublin Theosophical lodge was opened with the involvement
of Brahmin Mohini Chatterjee. Yeats attended his first séance
the following year. Later, Yeats became heavily involved with hermeticist
and theosophical beliefs, and in 1900 he became head of the Hermetic
Order of the Golden Dawn, which he had joined in 1890. After his marriage,
he and his wife dabbled with a form of automatic writing.
inclinations, informed by Hindu religion (Yeats translated The Ten Principal
Upanishads (1938) with Shri Purohit Swami), theosophical beliefs and
the occult, formed much of the basis of his late poetry, which some
critics have attacked as lacking in intellectual credibility. W. H.
Auden criticized his late stage as the "deplorable spectacle of
a grown man occupied with the mumbo-jumbo of magic and the nonsense
of India". Nevertheless, he wrote much of his most enduring poetry
during this period. The metaphysics of Yeats' late works must be read
in relation to his system of esoteric fundamentalities in A Vision (1925),
which is read today primarily for its value shed on his late poetry
rather than for any rigorous intellectual or philosophical insights.
A 1907 engraving
of Yeats.In 1913, Yeats met the young American poet Ezra Pound. Pound
had travelled to London at least partly to meet the older man, whom
he considered "the only poet worthy of serious study". From
that year until 1916, the two men spent the winters in a cottage in
Ashdown Forest with Pound nominally acting as Yeats' secretary. The
relationship got off to a rocky start when Pound arranged for the publication
in the magazine Poetry of some of Yeats' verse with Pound's own unauthorised
alterations. These changes were mostly designed to reflect Pound's distaste
for Victorian prosody. However, both men soon found that they had a
good deal to learn from each other. In particular, the scholarship on
Japanese Noh plays that Pound had obtained from Ernest Fenollosa's widow
provided Yeats with a model for the aristocratic drama he intended to
write. The first of his plays modelled on Noh was At the Hawk's Well,
the first draft of which he dictated to Pound in January 1916.
Yeats is generally
conceded to be one of twentieth century's key English-language poets.
Yet, unlike most modernists who experimented with vers libre, Yeats
was a master of the traditional verse forms. The impact of modernism
on Yeats' work can be seen in the increasing abandonment of the more
conventionally poetic diction of his early work in favour of the more
austere language and more direct approach to his themes that increasingly
characterises the poetry and plays of his middle period, comprising
the volumes In the Seven Woods, Responsibilities, and The Green Helmet.
part to his exposure to the work of the younger modernists he met through
Pound, the poetry of Yeats' middle period moved away from the Celtic
Twilight mood of the earlier work. His political concerns also moved
away from the arena of cultural politics in which he was so involved
during the early years of the Revival. In his early work, Yeats' essentially
aristocratic pose led to an idealisation of the Irish peasant and a
corresponding willingness to ignore the very real poverty and suffering
that was the daily lot of that class. However, the emergence of a revolutionary
movement from the ranks of the urban Catholic lower-middle class left
him little choice but to reassess his attitudes.
direct engagement with politics can be seen in the poem September 1913,
with its well-known refrain "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,/It's
with O'Leary in the grave." This poem is an attack on the Dublin
employers who were involved in the famous 1913 lockout of workers who
supported James Larkin's attempts to organise the Irish labour movement.
In Easter 1916, with its equally famous refrain "All changed, changed
utterly:/A terrible beauty is born", Yeats faces his own failure
to recognise the merits of the leaders of the Easter Rising because
of their apparently humble backgrounds and lives.
appointed to the Irish Senate (Seanad Éireann) in 1922 and one
of his main achievements as a Senator was to chair the coinage committee
that was charged with selecting a set of designs for the first coinage
for the Irish Free State. He also spoke against proposed anti-divorce
legislation in 1925. His own characterisation of himself as a public
figure is captured in the line "A sixty-year-old smiling public
man" in the 1927 poem "Amongst School Children". He retired
from the Seanad in 1928 because of ill health. During his time as a
senator Yeats warned his colleagues "If you show that this country,
Southern Ireland, is going to be governed by Catholic ideas and by Catholic
ideas alone, you will never get the North . . . You will put a wedge
in the midst of this nation", a speech which was offensive to the
orthodox Catholics who comprised the Irish government and political
establishment at that time.
aristocratic attitudes and his association with Pound tended to draw
him towards Mussolini, for whom he expressed admiration on a number
of occasions. He also wrote some 'marching songs' (which were never
used) for General Eoin O'Duffy's 'Blueshirts', a quasi-fascist political
movement. However, when Pablo Neruda invited him to visit Madrid in
1937, Yeats responded with a letter supporting the Republic against
Fascism. Yeats' politics are ambiguous: no friend of the Left (or democracy),
he distanced himself from Nazism and Fascism in the last few years of
his life. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that he ever reconciled himself
to democracy in any meaningful sense. He was also deeply involved in
the eugenics movement.
Memorial in St. Stephen's Green, DublinIn his later poetry and plays,
Yeats moved away from the directly political subjects of his middle
years and started to write in a more personal vein. His subjects included
his son and daughter and the experience of growing old. Yeats himself,
in the poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion", which was published
in his final collection, describes the inspiration for these late works
in the lines "Now that my ladder's gone,/I must lie down where
all the ladders start/In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart".
In 1929, he
stayed at Thoor Ballylee for the last time. Much of the remainder of
his life was outside Ireland, but he did lease a house in the Dublin
suburb of Rathfarnham from 1932. He wrote prolifically through the final
years of his life, publishing poetry, plays and prose. In 1938, he attended
the Abbey for the last time to see the premier of his play Purgatory.
The Autobiographies of William Butler Yeats was published that same
from a variety of illnesses for a number of years, Yeats died at the
Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France on 28 January
1939 at the age of 73. The last poem he wrote was the Arthurian-themed
The Black Tower. Soon afterward, Yeats was first buried at Roquebrune,
until, in accordance with his final wish, his body was moved to Drumecliff,
Sligo in September, 1948, on the corvette Irish Macha. His grave is
a famous attraction in Sligo. His epitaph, which is the final line from
one of his last poems, Under Ben Bulben is "Cast a cold eye on
life, on death; horseman, pass by!" Of this location, Yeats said,
"the place that has really influenced my life most is Sligo."
The town is also home to a statue and memorial building in Yeats' honour.
dramatist and prose writer, one of the greatest English-language poets
of the 20th century. Yeats received the Nobel Prize for Literature in
1923. Between the Celtic dreams of THE WANDERINGS OF OISIN (1889) and
the intellectual, often obscure poetry of the 1930s, Yeats produced
a tremendous amount of works. In his early career Yeats studied William
Blake's poems, Emanuel Swedenborg's writings and other visionaries,
but later he began to confront reality with a new directness - and disillusionment.
Central theme in Yeats's poems is Ireland, its history, folklore and
contemporary public life.
Yeats was born in Dublin. His father was a lawyer turned to an Irish
Pre-Raphaelite painter. In 1867 the family followed him to London and
settled in Bedford Park. In 1881 they returned to Dublin, where Yeats
studied the Metropolitan School of Art. He met there the poet, dramatist
and painter George Russell (1867-1935), who was interested in mysticism.
communication with the dead, mediums, supernatural systems and Oriental
mysticism fascinated Yeats through his life. In 1886 Yeats formed the
Dublin Lodge of the Hermetic Society and took the magical name Daemon
est Deus Inversus. The occult order also attracted Aleister Crowley.
As a writer
Yeats made his debut in 1885, when he published his first poems in The
Dublin University Review. In 1887 the family returned to Bedford Park,
and Yeats devoted himself to writing. He visited Mme Blavatsky, the
famous occultist, and joined the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical
Society, but was later asked to resign. In 1889 Yeats met his great
love, Maud Gonne (1866-1953), an an actress and Irish revolutionary
who became a major landmark in the poets life and imagination. However,
she married in 1903 Major John MacBride, and this episode inspired Yeats's
poem 'No Second Troy'. "Why, what could she have done being what
she is? / Was there another Troy for her to burn." MacBride was
later executed by the British.
interested in folktales as a part of an exploration of national heritage
and for the revival of Celtic identity. His study with George Russell
and Douglas Hyde of Irish legends and tales was published in 1888 under
the name Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. Yeats assembled
for children a less detailed version, IRISH FAIRY TALES, which appeared
in 1892. (see also Wilhelm Grimm.) THE WANDERINGS OF OISIN AND OTHER
POEMS (1889), filled with sad longings, took its subject from Irish
In 1896 Yeats
returned to live permanently in his home country. He reformed Irish
Literary Society, and then the National Literary Society in Dublin,
which aimed to promote the New Irish Library. In 1897 he met Isabella
Augusta, Lady Gregory, with whom he founded the Irish Literary Theatre.
Yeats worked as a director of the theatre to the end of his life, writing
several plays for it. His most famous dramas were CATHLEEN NI HOULIHAN
(1902) and THE LAND OF HEART'S DESIRE (1894).
whom Yeats met in 1912, became his fencing master and secretary in the
winters of 1913 and 1914. Pound introduced Yeats to Japanese Noah drama,
which inspired his plays. In early 1917 Yeats bought Thoor Ballyle,
a derelict Norman stone tower near Coole Park. After restoring it, the
tower became his summer home and central symbol in his later poetry.
In 1917 he married Georgie Hyde-Lee - they had a son and a daughter.
However, before the marriage Yeats had proposed to Maud Gonne, but he
was also obsessed with Gonne's daughter Iseult, who turned him down.
During their honeymood Yeats's wife demonstrated her gift for automatic
writing. Their collaborative notebooks formed the basis of A VISION
(1925), a book of marriage therapy spiced with occultism.
from suggestive, beautiful lyricism toward the spare and tragic bitterness
was marked in Yeats poem 'September 1913' in which he stated: "Romantic
Ireland's dead and gone." During the civil war Irish Free State
soldiers burned many of Yeats's letters to Maud Gonne when they raided
her house. At the start of the war Yeats went to Oxford, but then returned
to Dublin, becoming a Senator in the same year. As a politician Yeats
defended Protestant interests and took pro-Treaty stance against Republicans.
Maud Gonne's son, Sean MacBride, was imprisoned without trial under
emergency legislation that Yeats had voted for.
In 1932 Yeats
founded the Irish Academy of Letters and in 1933 he was briefly involved
with the fascist Blueshirts in Dublin. While in Mallorca Yeats became
seriously ill. He tried to meet Robert Graves who refused to see him.
In his final years Yeats worked on the last version of A VISION, which
attempted to present a theory of the variation of human personality,
and published THE OXFORD BOOK OF VERSE (1936) and NEW POEMS (1938).
Yeats died in 1939 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in
Menton, France. In 'Under Ben Buiben,' one of his last poems, he had
mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and
all that I write."
Born in Dublin
in the year 1865, William Butler Yeats would go on to become universally
recognized by his peers as the greatest poet of this century writing
in the English language. This recognition would come as early as 1828,
a decade before his death with the publication of arguably his finest
volume, The Tower (Fraser, 207). The son of one time attorney and later
well known painter John Butler Yeats, W.B. Yeats was of partially Cornish
and Gaelic decent, born near Dublin and raised between both England
in Dublin and raised between England and Ireland, Yeats would develop,
through his mother, a love for the west country of Ireland that would
last all his life. Parts of his childhood and later vacations would
be spent in County Sligo, the childhood home of both his parents. Yeats
would later depict his beloved County Sligo in such works as "The
Lake Isle of Innisfree". These works would serve as a symbol of
his imaginative escape from the disappointments and unpleasant realities
of life (Magill, 1957).
would be broad in education and personal experiences. Yeats would become
a youth full of internal contradictions, often spawned by his desire
to question all that he was taught. Spiritually, educationally, and
personally, Yeats seemed to himself pulled in different directions,
unable to decide on a clear path. These internal contradictions would
come to shape the writer and man that he would one day become.
Much of childhood
for Yeats was spent in London, where he attended the Godolphin School.
At the age of fifteen, Yeats returned to Dublin and attended the Erasmus
Smith School. In the tradition of his family, Yeats studied art from
1883 to 1886. Yeats also found intellectual stimulation in his fathers
reading, often aloud. Through this and his own personal initiative,
...Yeats discovered Shakespeare, the Romantic poets, and the Pre-Raphaelites,
explored popular works on Eastern mysticism, became interested in Irish
myths and folklore, and perhaps most important, met the poets and intellectuals
of the Irish Literary Revival, many of whom were to remain lifelong
friends (Magill, 1957). Yeats soon discovered that his first love was
poetry not painting. Soon began Yeats's love affair with Ireland and
Irish literature that would last the rest of his life.
outlook would play a significant role in his life and his works. Born
into a Protestant family, with a paternal grandfather and great-grandfather
having been Anglican clergymen, religion was a constant presence in
Yeats's childhood. Yeats began to abandon the religion of his Rationalist
upbringing and made a new religion out of poetic tradition (Kunitz,
1560). Yeats's interest in the occult and mysticism comes about early
in life, an influence which would come to partially define Yeats to
his world of readers, whether accurately or inaccurately.
in his writing to create a fresh tradition and a unique style. He attempted
to create a literature that was Irish in subject matter and tone. Yeats
strove to reawaken in his people a sense of the glory and significance
of Ireland s historical and legendary past (Magill, 1958). Yeats found
his vehicle to accomplish just that in Irish mythology and folklore.
Offering an answer to Yeats's search for a personal and individual mythology,
Yeats found a treasury of symbols hitherto unused in English poetry
(Magill, 1958). Turning mythical figures into private symbols was the
vehicle by which Yeats sought to translate his life to mystical events
represented by the symbolism of Irish mythology. G.S. Fraser had this
to say of Yeats and the type of man that his writing represented. The
very fact that the young man could so easily concoct a new Religion
for himself-out of Irish folklore...and anything that came handy-is
evidence of a rather unreligious nature; evidence of a blithe and irresponsible
temperament, that of a young man sure of his genius, and unconvicted
of sin (Fraser, 211)..
life is often divided into three periods. The first was passed in London
where he belonged to a group of fin de sieclepoets. Ernest Rhys and
Yeats founded the Rhymers Club, of which Yeats was not the young star,
but rather overshadowed by his contemporaries, Dowson and Lionel Johnson.
During this time, Yeats wrote the Celtic twilight, highly indicative
of his mystical tendencies and affiliations. A period of symbolism,
ornamentation, easy music, and too great facility, he dabbled in the
occult and sought the answers to life he could not seem to unravel in
his own mind by means of traditional explanations.
to Ireland in 1896, Yeats found himself caught up in the Irish Revolution.
In the center of the conflict was the love of his life, Maud Gonne.
It is at this point in his life that his plays and poems, though beautiful,
began to repeat themselves (Kunitz, 1560). Yeats young life would soon
be drastically changed, as he would meet Lady Gregory who, in essence,
would save him from himself. Rehabilitating the confidence of the young
writer and providing Yeats something to work for, Lady Gregory resurrected
Yeats. Together, along with J.M. Synge, they founded the Irish Literary
Theater, which would become the Abbey Theater and the Irish Academy.
Yeats wrote several plays for the Abbey, though the most successful
and well remembered were his patriotic propaganda piece, Cathleen ni
Houlihan and the tragedy Deirdre. Here we see one of Yeats's greatest
contributions to his Ireland in the founding of the Irish National Theater.
producing plays for the Abbey, the middle period of Yeats's life would
come to a close. Yeats's work and focus would now take on a more practical
value. The mysticism that had been found previously in his work would
dwindle. His poetry became more based in reality, less ambiguous and
more direct. This period would be the least mystical of his career.
A brief digression
must be made in order to examine the influence of Maud Gonne on the
life and work of W.B. Yeats. Yeats met the fiery revolutionary in 1889.
He fell deeply in love with her and would propose to her in 1891, 1899,
1900, 1901, and 1916. Gonne had no use for Yeats's proposals. However,
she did have a use for his talents. Gonne would use Yeats for his ability
as an orator. Maud Gonne, dragging him at her heels on nationalist agitations,
soon found that he was a natural orator and could easily dominate committees
(Fraser, 210). Maud Gonne would continue to turn Yeats proposals down,
yet she continued to be the catalyst for the finest love poetry Yeats
would ever create. Gonne would once ask for Yeats's help in London,
ending a brief but happy love affair with Olivia Shakespear. Sensing
divided loyalty, Shakespear would end the affair and it was shortly
thereafter that Lady Gregory would save Yeats from a potentially more
tragic end, like the poets of the tragic generation (Fraser 210).
himself a socialist, one who despised the middle classes, and his ideal
Ireland was divided between a hard-riding Protestant of fine artistic
tastes and a devout Catholic peasantry, full of instinctive wisdom and
preserving a living folklore (Rogers, 384). In spite of Yeats's theoretic
dissociation from contemporary Irish life and politics, he could not
escape his environment, the less so because he was in love, and was
to be for two decades (Magill, 1958). The love of Yeats life, Gonne
would keep this mystic, otherworldly figure grounded in the real world,
a world that love and heartbreak would not allow him to escape. This
anchor to the world of reality would continue to drive Yeats to strive
for the creation of the Ireland of his dreams. Still, later in life,
Yeats would realize that the clerical and bourgeois Free State set up
in 1922 bore little relation to his dreams.
turned down by Gonne yet again in 1916, Yeats would propose to her daughter,
Iseult, in 1917 and once again be rejected. Later in 1917, Yeats suddenly
married Georgie Lees. In 1918 he began restoration of his tower at Coole
and settled on the coast. Yeats soon fathered a daughter in 1919 and
a son in 1921. The third period of his life had begun.
stage of Yeats life was a diverse one, in which some of his best works
would be created and he would come to push the world of Irish literature
to a new realm. Becoming a member of the Irish Senate from 1922 to 1928,
Yeats emerged heavily on the social scene. Meanwhile (it was years later
before he acknowledged it), he had discovered that Mrs. Yeats was a
medium, who did automatic writing (Kunitz, 1561). The mystic side of
Yeats was reborn, incurring with it heavy criticism from his peers for
his outlandish and deeply held beliefs. Unashamed and unafraid of the
consequences, Yeats would face harsh ridicule by revealing such statements
as his belief in fairies.
In 1923, Yeats
would win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Soon Yeats himself realized
what the world would soon admit, when he was young, he said, his Muse
was old; now he was old but his Muse was young (Kunitz, 1561). Nobody
argued with Yeats statement. One critic had this to say. He is perhaps
the only poet in history whose last work was his best. The taut bareness
of the phrases, the stark beauty, the sharpness, the simplicity, the
objectivity, he had never achieved in youth came to him in old age (Kunitz,
1561). Yeats would continue to advance his art and poetry throughout
the course of his life. Yeats was more of a revolutionary and more of
a contributor to English Literature than any of his peers, and arguably
one of the largest contributors in history.
was a complex man with a steady vehicle for his ideas. Yeats was a many
of diverse interests and causes. Though involved in various movements,
differing schools of thought, a constant search for the truth and a
fight for the individuality and self-worth of Ireland, Yeats never abandoned
his primary vehicle, poetry. Though he went on to write much more than
simply poetry, he always came back to his first love. Yeats was a poet
at his deepest, most personal level.
the unique ability to take fantasy, mysticism ,and the unknown and use
it as an analogy to examine and explain the human condition. In Yeats's
poetry is seen a message as broad and diverse as the man himself. Always
questioning, constantly striving to explain and make analogous to the
folklore of his native land, Yeats poetry serves as a record of Yeats's
personal struggle. One analysis of the poetry of Yeats capsulizes its
meaning thusly, "What the poems record is the continuous conflict
between the claims of a prophetic wisdom, a sense of insulation against
the terrors of history, and, on the other hand, the claims, rewards,
and pains of the moment" (Scott-Kilvert, 208). Still full of internal
contradictions and constantly questioning conventional knowledge, Yeats
would reach the twilight of his days. More fresh now and full of ideas,
Yeats would continue to lead the way for his younger counterparts.
die at seventy-three, disillusioned with his Ireland and his life, but
that he loved them both still is unquestionable. Struggling to come
to terms with reality and truth, Yeats would die with his best work
to come, and his mind still able to produce it. He died perhaps the
greatest poet yet created by Ireland, and the greatest of his time in
England. Had he died at a younger age that might not have been the case.
The undisputed leader of Irish intellectual life, Yeats saw himself,
as Horace Gregory put it, to be a citizen of two worlds, the visible
and the unseen, walking as envoy from each into the other (Kunitz, 1561).
Desmond Fitzgerald said of Yeats work that, He opened to us the soul
of our own country like a book.