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Yeats, William Butler
(1865–1939)
1923

Biography

(1865-1939) Irish poet, dramatist and prose writer, one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century. Yeats received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

William Butler Yeats was born on June 13, 1865 in Dublin. His father was a lawyer turned 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 at the Metropolitan School of Art. Reincarnation, 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.

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 actress and Irish revolutionary who became a major landmark in his life and imagination. However, she married in 1903 Major John MacBride, and this episode inspired Yeats's poem "No Second Troy".

Yeats was 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 title Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. Yeats assembled for children a less detailed version, Irish Fairy Tales, which appeared in 1892. The Wanderings Of Oisin And Other Poems (1889), took its subject from Irish mythology.

In 1896 Yeats returned to live permanently in his home country. He reformed the 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).

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 a central symbol in his later poetry. In 1917 he married Georgie Hyde-Lee. During their honeymoon 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.

In 1932 Yeats founded the Irish Academy of Letters and in 1933 he was briefly involved with the fascist Blueshirts in Dublin. 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 on January 28, 1939 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France.
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