William Butler Yeats was a Nobel Prize winning Irish dramatist, author and poet who was best known for writing “The Celtic Twilight”. Yeats’ works focus heavily on Irish mythology and history. He never was able to fully embrace his Protestant past nor did he join the majority of Ireland’s Roman Catholics. He also devoted much of his life to study in a myriad of other subjects including theosophy, mysticism, spiritualism, and the Kabbalah.
William Butler Yeats was born on June 13, 1865 in the seaside village of Sandymount in County Dublin, Ireland. His mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen was the daughter of a wealthy family from County Sligo. William’s father John Butler Yeats was studying to become a lawyer at the time of his marriage but soon gave that up to follow his dreams of becoming an artist, of which he became a well known portrait painter.
At a young age William was already reading Dante Alighieri, William Shakespeare, John Donne and the works of William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley. These books were recommended by his father and inspiration for his own creativity, but fellow Irish poets Standish James O’Grady and Sir William Ferguson were perhaps the most influential. Yeats became a devoted patriot and found his voice to speak out against the harsh Nationalist policies of the time. His early dramatic works convey his deep respect for the Irish legend and fascination with the occult, while his later works take on a more poetical and experimental aspect. Yeats spent most of his life between Sligo, Dublin, and London, but his profound influence to future poets and playwrights and theatre, music and film can be seen the world over.
Yeat’s mother Susan was the first to introduce him and his two sisters Susan Mary and Elizabeth Corbet to the Irish folktales he would grow to love so much. His younger brother Jack Butler Yeats would follow in his father’s footsteps and also become an accomplished artist. When William was just two years old his father decided to move the family to London, England to study art. There William attended the Godolphin School in Hammersmith to begin his education before the family moved back to Dublin. Once back in Dublin William attended Erasmus Smith High School and spent much of his time at his father’s nearby art studio. Pursuing his own interests in the arts, in 1884 he decided to enroll in the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin for two years, during which some of his first poems were printed in the Dublin University Review.
The Yeats were now living in London in Bedford Park and their home was the lively gathering place for their many writer and artist friends to discuss politics, religion, literature, and art. It was at this time that he also met many of the other up-and-coming authors and poets of his generation.
In 1903, as a successful poet and playwright now, Yeats went on his first lecture tour of the United States, and would repeat the tour again in 1914, 1920, and 1932. Yeats and his sisters joined forces and started the Cuala Press in 1904, which would print continuously until it closed in 1946.
In 1911 at the age of forty-six, Yeats met Georgie Hyde Lees and they married on October 20, 1917. They had two children; Anne, born in 1919 and for whom he wrote the well known poem “A Prayer for My Daughter” and a son Michael was born on August 22, 1921, for whom Yeats wrote “A Prayer for My Son”.
William Butler Yeats died, on January 28, 1939, in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France he was seventy-three years old. . He was first buried there then as were his wishes, in then 1948 re-interred in Drumcliff churchyard, County Sligo, Ireland.