William Butler Yeats

Biography of William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats (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. 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.

William Butler 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.

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 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.

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 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 mythology.

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).

Ezra Pound, 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.

The change 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 written:

No marble, no conventional phrase; On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut: Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman; pass by!

Yeats’s coffin was taken in 1948 to Druncliff in Sligo, but there is some doubt as to the authenticity of the bones.

“The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.”

Biography By:

Poems By William Butler Yeats

Baile And Aillinn

Baile And Aillinn (No Comments »)


Anashuya And Vijaya (No Comments »)
Down By The Salley Gardens (No Comments »)
Ephemera (No Comments »)
The Ballad Of Father O’Hart (No Comments »)
The Ballad Of Moll Magee (No Comments »)
The Ballad Of The Foxhunter (No Comments »)
The Cloak, The Boat And The Shoes (No Comments »)
The Falling Of The Leaves (No Comments »)
The Indian To His Love (No Comments »)
The Indian Upon God (No Comments »)
The Madness Of King Goll (No Comments »)
The Meditation Of The Old Fisherman (No Comments »)
The Sad Shepherd (No Comments »)
The Song Of The Happy Shepherd (No Comments »)
The Stolen Child (No Comments »)
To An Isle In The Water (No Comments »)

In the Seven Woods

Adam’s Curse (No Comments »)
In The Seven Woods (No Comments »)
Never Give All The Heart (No Comments »)
O Do Not Love Too Long (No Comments »)
Old Memory (No Comments »)
Red Hanrahan’s Song About Ireland (No Comments »)
The Arrow (No Comments »)
The Folly Of Being Comforted (No Comments »)
The Happy Townland (No Comments »)
The Old Men Admiring Themselves In The Water (No Comments »)
The Players Ask For A Blessing On The Psalteries And On Themselves (No Comments »)
The Ragged Wood (No Comments »)
The Withering Of The Boughs (No Comments »)
Under The Moon (No Comments »)

Last Poems

A Bronze Head (No Comments »)
A Nativity (No Comments »)
A Stick Of Incense (No Comments »)
Cuchulain Comforted (No Comments »)
High Talk (No Comments »)
Hound Voice (No Comments »)
In Tara’s Halls (No Comments »)
John Kinsella’s Lament For Mrs. Mary Moore (No Comments »)
Long-Legged Fly (No Comments »)
Man And The Echo (No Comments »)
News For The Delphic Oracle (No Comments »)
Politics (No Comments »)
The Apparitions (No Comments »)
The Black Tower (No Comments »)
The Circus Animals’ Desertion (No Comments »)
The Statues (No Comments »)
Three Marching Songs (No Comments »)
Three Songs To The One Burden (No Comments »)
Under Ben Bulben (No Comments »)

Michael Robartes and the Dancer

A Meditation In Time Of War (No Comments »)
A Prayer For My Daughter (No Comments »)
An Image From A Past Life (No Comments »)
Demon And Beast (No Comments »)
Easter, 1916 (No Comments »)
Michael Robartes And The Dancer (No Comments »)
On A Political Prisoner (No Comments »)
Sixteen Dead Men (No Comments »)
Solomon And The Witch (No Comments »)
The Leaders Of The Crowd (No Comments »)
The Rose Tree (No Comments »)
The Second Coming (No Comments »)
To Be Carved On A Stone At Thoor Ballylee (No Comments »)
Towards Break Of Day (No Comments »)
Under Saturn (No Comments »)

New Poems

A Crazed Girl (No Comments »)
A Drunken Man’s Praise Of Sobriety (No Comments »)
A Model For The Laureate (No Comments »)
An Acre Of Grass (No Comments »)
Are You Content? (No Comments »)
Beautiful Lofty Things (No Comments »)
Colonel Martin (No Comments »)
Come Gather Round Me, Parnellites (No Comments »)
Imitated From The Japanese (No Comments »)
Lapis Lazuli (No Comments »)
Parnell (No Comments »)
Roger Casement (No Comments »)
Sweet Dancer (No Comments »)
The Chambermaid’s First Song (No Comments »)
The Chambermaid’s Second Song (No Comments »)
The Curse Of Cromwell (No Comments »)
The Ghost Of Roger Casement (No Comments »)
The Great Day (No Comments »)
The Gyres (No Comments »)
The Lady’s First Song (No Comments »)
The Lady’s Second Song (No Comments »)
The Lady’s Third Song (No Comments »)
The Lover’s Song (No Comments »)
The Municipal Gallery Revisited (No Comments »)
The O’Rahilly (No Comments »)
The Old Stone Cross (No Comments »)
The Pilgrim (No Comments »)
The Spirit Medium (No Comments »)
The Spur (No Comments »)
The Three Bushes (No Comments »)
The Wild Old Wicked Man (No Comments »)
Those Images (No Comments »)
To Dorothy Wellesley (No Comments »)
What Then? (No Comments »)
What Was Lost (No Comments »)

On The Boiler

A Statesman’s Holiday (No Comments »)
Crazy Jane On The Mountain (No Comments »)
Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? (No Comments »)

Parnell's Funeral and Other Poems

A Prayer For Old Age (No Comments »)
Alternative Song For The Severed Head In `The King Of The Great Clock Tower’ (No Comments »)
Church And State (No Comments »)
Parnell’s Funeral (No Comments »)
Supernatural Songs (No Comments »)
Two Songs Rewritten For The Tune’s Sake (No Comments »)


A Coat (No Comments »)
A Memory Of Youth (No Comments »)
A Song From ‘The Player Queen’ (No Comments »)
An Appointment (No Comments »)
Beggar To Beggar Cried (No Comments »)
Fallen Majesty (No Comments »)
Friends (No Comments »)
On Those That Hated The ‘Playboy Of The Western World,’ 1907 (No Comments »)
Paudeen (No Comments »)
Responsibilities – Closing (No Comments »)
Responsibilities – Introduction (No Comments »)
Running To Paradise (No Comments »)
September 1913 (No Comments »)
That The Night Come (No Comments »)
The Cold Heaven (No Comments »)
The Dolls (No Comments »)
The Grey Rock (No Comments »)
The Hour Before Dawn (No Comments »)
The Magi (No Comments »)
The Mountain Tomb (No Comments »)
The Peacock (No Comments »)
The Realists (No Comments »)
The Three Beggars (No Comments »)
The Three Hermits (No Comments »)
The Witch (No Comments »)
To A Child Dancing In The Wind (No Comments »)
To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing (No Comments »)
To A Shade (No Comments »)
To A Wealthy Man Who Promised A Second Subscription To The Dublin Municipal Gallery If It Were Proved The People Wanted Pictures (No Comments »)
Two Years Later (No Comments »)
When Helen Lived (No Comments »)

The Green Helmet and Other Poems

A Drinking Song (No Comments »)
A Friend’s Illness (No Comments »)
A Woman Homer Sung (No Comments »)
Against Unworthy Praise (No Comments »)
All Things Can Tempt Me (No Comments »)
At Galway Races (No Comments »)
At The Abbey Theatre (No Comments »)
Brown Penny (No Comments »)
His Dream (No Comments »)
King And No King (No Comments »)
No Second Troy (No Comments »)
On Hearing That The Students Of Our New University Have Joined The Agitation Against Immoral Literature (No Comments »)
Peace (No Comments »)
Reconciliation (No Comments »)
The Coming Of Wisdom With Time (No Comments »)
The Fascination Of What’s Difficult (No Comments »)
The Mask (No Comments »)
These Are The Clouds (No Comments »)
To A Poet, Who Would Have Me Praise Certain Bad Poets, Imitators Of His And Mine (No Comments »)
Upon A House Shaken By The Land Agitation (No Comments »)
Words (No Comments »)

The Old Age Of Queen Maeve

The Old Age Of Queen Maeve (No Comments »)

The Rose

A Cradle Song (No Comments »)
A Dream Of Death (No Comments »)
A Faery Song (No Comments »)
Cuchulan’s Fight With The Sea (No Comments »)
Fergus And The Druid (No Comments »)
The Ballad Of Father Gilligan (No Comments »)
The Countess Cathleen In Paradise (No Comments »)
The Dedication To A Book Of Stories Selected From The Irish Novelists (No Comments »)
The Lake Isle Of Innisfree (No Comments »)
The Lamentation Of The Old Pensioner (No Comments »)
The Man Who Dreamed Of Faeryland (No Comments »)
The Pity Of Love (No Comments »)
The Rose Of Battle (No Comments »)
The Rose Of Peace (No Comments »)
The Rose Of The World (No Comments »)
The Sorrow Of Love (No Comments »)
The Two Trees (No Comments »)
The White Birds (No Comments »)
To Ireland In The Coming Times (No Comments »)
To Some I Have Talked With By The Fire (No Comments »)
To The Rose Upon The Rood Of Time (No Comments »)
When You Are Old (No Comments »)
Who Goes With Fergus? (No Comments »)

The Shadowy Waters

The Shadowy Waters: Introductory Lines (No Comments »)
The Shadowy Waters: The Harp of Aengus (No Comments »)
The Shadowy Waters: The Shadowy Waters (No Comments »)

The Tower

A Man Young And Old: I. First Love (No Comments »)
A Man Young And Old: II. Human Dignity (No Comments »)
A Man Young And Old: III. The Mermaid (No Comments »)
A Man Young And Old: IV. The Death Of The Hare (No Comments »)
A Man Young And Old: IX. The Secrets Of The Old (No Comments »)
A Man Young And Old: V. The Empty Cup (No Comments »)
A Man Young And Old: VI. His Memories (No Comments »)
A Man Young And Old: VII. The Friends Of His Youth (No Comments »)
A Man Young And Old: VIII. Summer And Spring (No Comments »)
A Man Young And Old: X. His Wildness (No Comments »)
A Man Young And Old: XI. From Oedipus At Colonus (No Comments »)
A Prayer For My Son (No Comments »)
All Souls’ Night (No Comments »)
Among School Children (No Comments »)
Colonus’ Praise (No Comments »)
Fragments (No Comments »)
Leda And The Swan (No Comments »)
Meditations In Time Of Civil War (No Comments »)
Nineteen Hundred And Nineteen (No Comments »)
On A Picture Of A Black Centaur By Edmund Dulac (No Comments »)
Owen Aherne And His Dancers (No Comments »)
Sailing To Byzantium (No Comments »)
The Fool By The Roadside (No Comments »)
The New Faces (No Comments »)
The Three Monuments (No Comments »)
The Tower (No Comments »)
The Wheel (No Comments »)
Two Songs From A Play (No Comments »)
Wisdom (No Comments »)
Youth And Age (No Comments »)

The Two Kings

The Two Kings (No Comments »)

The Wanderings of Oisin

The Wanderings of Oisin: Book I (No Comments »)
The Wanderings of Oisin: Book II (No Comments »)
The Wanderings of Oisin: Book III (No Comments »)

The Wild Swans at Coole

A Deep Sworn Vow (No Comments »)
A Prayer On Going Into My House (No Comments »)
A Song (No Comments »)
A Thought From Propertius (No Comments »)
An Irish Airman Forsees His Death (No Comments »)
Another Song Of A Fool (No Comments »)
Broken Dreams (No Comments »)
Ego Dominus Tuus (No Comments »)
Her Praise (No Comments »)
His Phoenix (No Comments »)
In Memory Of Alfred Pollexfen (No Comments »)
In Memory Of Major Robert Gregory (No Comments »)
Lines Written In Dejection (No Comments »)
Memory (No Comments »)
Men Improve With The Years (No Comments »)
On Being Asked For A War Poem (No Comments »)
On Woman (No Comments »)
Presences (No Comments »)
Shepherd And Goatherd (No Comments »)
Solomon To Sheba (No Comments »)
The Balloon Of The Mind (No Comments »)
The Cat And The Moon (No Comments »)
The Collar-Bone Of A Hare (No Comments »)
The Dawn (No Comments »)
The Double Vision Of Michael Robartes (No Comments »)
The Fisherman (No Comments »)
The Hawk (No Comments »)
The Living Beauty (No Comments »)
The People (No Comments »)
The Phases Of The Moon (No Comments »)
The Saint And The Hunchback (No Comments »)
The Scholars (No Comments »)
The Wild Swans At Coole (No Comments »)
To A Squirrel At Kyle-Na-No (No Comments »)
To A Young Beauty (No Comments »)
To A Young Girl (No Comments »)
Tom O’Roughley (No Comments »)
Two Songs Of A Fool (No Comments »)
Under The Round Tower (No Comments »)
Upon A Dying Lady (No Comments »)

The Wind Among The Reeds

A Poet To His Beloved (No Comments »)
He Bids His Beloved Be At Peace (No Comments »)
He Gives His Beloved Certain Rhymes (No Comments »)
He Hears The Cry Of The Sedge (No Comments »)
He Mourns For The Change That Has Come Upon Him And His Beloved, And Longs For The End Of The World (No Comments »)
He Remembers Forgotten Beauty (No Comments »)
He Reproves The Curlew (No Comments »)
He Tells Of A Valley Full Of Lovers (No Comments »)
He Tells Of The Perfect Beauty (No Comments »)
He Thinks Of His Past Greatness When A Part Of The Constellations Of Heaven (No Comments »)
He Thinks Of Those Who Have Spoken Evil Of His Beloved (No Comments »)
He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven (No Comments »)
He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead (No Comments »)
Into The Twilight (No Comments »)
Maid Quiet (No Comments »)
The Blessed (No Comments »)
The Cap And Bells (No Comments »)
The Everlasting Voices (No Comments »)
The Fiddler Of Dooney (No Comments »)
The Fish (No Comments »)
The Heart Of The Woman (No Comments »)
The Host Of The Air (No Comments »)
The Hosting Of The Sidhe (No Comments »)
The Lover Asks Forgiveness Because Of His Many Moods (No Comments »)
The Lover Mourns For The Loss Of Love (No Comments »)
The Lover Pleads With His Friend For Old Friends (No Comments »)
The Lover Speaks To The Hearers Of His Songs In Coming Days (No Comments »)
The Lover Tells Of The Rose In His Heart (No Comments »)
The Moods (No Comments »)
The Poet Pleads With The Elemental Powers (No Comments »)
The Secret Rose (No Comments »)
The Song Of The Old Mother (No Comments »)
The Song Of Wandering Aengus (No Comments »)
The Travail Of Passion (No Comments »)
The Unappeasable Host (No Comments »)
The Valley Of The Black Pig (No Comments »)
To His Heart, Bidding It Have No Fear (No Comments »)

The Winding Stair and Other Poems

A Dialogue Of Self And Soul (No Comments »)
A First Confession (No Comments »)
A Last Confession (No Comments »)
After Long Silence (No Comments »)
At Algeciras – A Meditaton Upon Death (No Comments »)
Before The World Was Made (No Comments »)
Blood And The Moon (No Comments »)
Byzantium (No Comments »)
Chosen (No Comments »)
Consolation (No Comments »)
Coole Park And Ballylee, 1931 (No Comments »)
Coole Park, 1929 (No Comments »)
Crazy Jane And Jack The Journeyman (No Comments »)
Crazy Jane And The Bishop (No Comments »)
Crazy Jane Grown Old Looks At The Dancers (No Comments »)
Crazy Jane On God (No Comments »)
Crazy Jane On The Day Of Judgment (No Comments »)
Crazy Jane Reproved (No Comments »)
Crazy Jane Talks With The Bishop (No Comments »)
Death (No Comments »)
Father And Child (No Comments »)
For Anne Gregory (No Comments »)
From The ‘Antigone’ (No Comments »)
Girl’s Song (No Comments »)
Gratitude To The Unknown Instructors (No Comments »)
Her Anxiety (No Comments »)
Her Dream (No Comments »)
Her Triumph (No Comments »)
Her Vision In The Wood (No Comments »)
His Bargain (No Comments »)
His Confidence (No Comments »)
I Am Of Ireland (No Comments »)
In Memory Of Eva Gore-Booth And Con Markiewicz (No Comments »)
Love’s Loneliness (No Comments »)
Lullaby (No Comments »)
Mad As The Mist And Snow (No Comments »)
Meeting (No Comments »)
Mohini Chatterjee (No Comments »)
Oil And Blood (No Comments »)
Old Tom Again (No Comments »)
Parting (No Comments »)
Quarrel In Old Age (No Comments »)
Remorse For Intemperate Speech (No Comments »)
Spilt Milk (No Comments »)
Statistics (No Comments »)
Stream And Sun At Glendalough (No Comments »)
Swift’s Epitaph (No Comments »)
Symbols (No Comments »)
The Choice (No Comments »)
The Crazed Moon (No Comments »)
The Dancer At Cruachan And Cro-Patrick (No Comments »)
The Delphic Oracle Upon Plotinus (No Comments »)
The Mother Of God (No Comments »)
The Nineteenth Century And After (No Comments »)
The Results Of Thought (No Comments »)
The Seven Sages (No Comments »)
Those Dancing Days Are Gone (No Comments »)
Three Movements (No Comments »)
Three Things (No Comments »)
Tom At Cruachan (No Comments »)
Tom The Lunatic (No Comments »)
Vacillation (No Comments »)
Veronica’s Napkin (No Comments »)
Young Man’s Song (No Comments »)