One of the most significant parts in the history of literature was the Irish Literary Revival. Also called the Irish Literary Renaissance, this movement refers to the flourishing of Irish literature in the mid 19th century to the early 20th century. William Butler Yeats was one of the great men behind this literary movement. In this short biography, you will find more about the personal life, career, and most notable works of this Irish writer.
Dublin, Ireland was the place of birth to William Butler Yeats. He was born on June 13, 1865, toJohn Butler Yeats and Susan Pollexfen Yeats. His father was originally a lawyer, but he decided to migrate to London with his family to become an artist.
It was in London, where William Butler Yeats went to grammar school. However, after living in London until 1880, his father decided to return to Ireland because of income losses. William Butler Yeats continued his studies at Erasmus High School in Dublin, Ireland. After graduating from high school, he was enrolled in the Metropolitan Art College, where he became friends with George Russell.
In 1885, his two lyrics were published in the Dublin University Review. He read extensively about Irish poetry and translated Gaelic text. During this time, he also became interested in the supernatural and established the Dublin Hermetic Society which focused on the spiritual ideas of Madame Blavatsky.
After moving to London with his family in 1887, William Butler Yeats joined the Esoteric Circle of the Theosophic Society. After two years, he also joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was devoted to ritual magic.
It was in London where he met writers such as: Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, William Morris, and William Ernest Henley. In 1889, he also met one of the most important people to affect his writing career—Maud Gonne. William Butler Yeats fell in love with the beautiful woman who only treated him as a friend. She rejected him several times and married another man. Despite of this, she became the inspiration and the center of the greatest poems that William Butler Yeats has ever written.
The first published book of William Butler Yeats was the Mosada (1886), which was a poem. A year after, he edited Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland and Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889), was the first work of William Butler Yeats as a lyric poet. He became very successful in this genre and produced great literary works such as:
- The Lake Isle of Innisfree
- Who Goes with Fergus?
- When You Are Old
- The Man Who Dreamed of Faeryland
- Adam’s Curse
In 1896, together with his friends, he founded the Irish Literary Theatre. This became the precursor of Abbey Theatre, which is also called the National Theatre of Ireland today. He continued to improve his writing and was able to come up with great works in the early 20th century such as:
- A Coat
- The Fisherman
- The Fascination of What’s Difficult
- September 1913
- An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
- Easter 1916
- Leda and the Swan
- The Second Coming
- A Vision
- Sailing to Byzantium
After his proposal to Maud Gonne was rejected in 1917, he married an English woman named George Hyde-Lees. They had two kids named Anne and William Michael, who also became his inspirations in some of his poems. Yeats became a part of the first independent Senate of Ireland (1922-1928) and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.
It was on January 28, 1939 when he died on the French Riviera, due to heart failure. His remains were buried in County Sligo (Ireland) and the epitaph on his grave was from his poem Under Ben Bulben, which reads:
Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!