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William Butler Yeats

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William Butler Yeats (June 13, 1865 - January 28, 1939) (also often referred to as W.B. Yeats) was an Irish poet, dramatist and mystic. He served as an Irish Senator in the 1920s.

Born in Dublin, in 1865, the firstborn of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Yeats. In 1877, W.B. entered Godolphin school, which he attended for four years, after which he continued his education at Erasmus Smith High School, in Dublin. For a time (from 1884 - 1886), he attended the Metropolitan School of Art.

In 1885, Yeats' first poems were published, in the Dublin University Review.

In 1889, Yeats met Maud Gonne[?], an actress and a figure in the Irish nationalist movement who was to have a significant effect on his poetry and his life ever after. Two years later, he proposed to Maud, but was rejected. In 1896, he met Lady Gregory, and began an affair with Olivia Shakespeare, which ended one year later. Lady Gregory encouraged Yeats' nationalism and convinced him to continue focusing on writing drama. In 1899, Yeats again proposed to Maud, and was again rejected. He prosed again in 1900, and again in 1901; in 1903, Maud Gonne married Irish nationalist John MacBride, and Yeats visited America on a lecture tour.

Yeats spent the summer of 1917 with Maud Gonne, and proposed to Maud's daughter, but was rejected. In September, he proposed to George Hyde-Lees, was accepted, and the two were married on the 20th of October.

Yeats' early poetry drew heavily on Irish myth and legend, however his later work was engaged with more contemporary issues. His style also underwent a dramatic transformation. His early work is lushly Victorian in tone, self-consciously ornate, and at times stilted; his later work is supple and muscular in its rhythms and sometimes harshly modernist. Yeats spanned the transition from the nineteenth century into twentieth-century modernism in poetry much as Pablo Picasso did in painting.

He was highly interested in mysticism, and attended his first seance[?] in 1886. 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 joined in 1890. That same year, maintaining his interest in the literary arts, Yeats cofounded the Rhymer's Club with John Rhys[?].

Yeats won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923.

All his life, Yeats maintained friendships with a number of poets and literary figures; for a time in 1913, Ezra Pound served as Yeats' secretary. Yeats was also known and respected by Oscar Wilde, J.M. Synge[?], T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, among others.

Yeats, after suffering from a variety of illnesses for a number of years, died in France eight months before the outbreak of World War II. His body was interred at Roquebrune[?], until it was moved to Drumecliff, Sligo in September, 1948.


His poem, "The Second Coming[?]" is one of the most potent sources of imagery about the 20th century. For instance,

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Also, the concluding lines

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

See also:

Maud Gonne[?]
Lady Gregory
Leda and the Swan


  • Mosada ((1886)
  • Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888)
  • The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889)
  • Representative Irish Tales (1891)
  • John Sherman and Dhoya (1891)
  • Irish Faerie Tales (1892)
  • The Countess Kathleen and Variosu Legends and Lyrics (1892).
  • The Celtic Twilight (893)
  • The Land of Heart's Desire (1894)
  • Poems (1895)
  • The Secret Rose (1897)
  • The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)
  • The Shadowy Waters (1900)
  • Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902)
  • Ideas of Good and Evil (1903)
  • In the Seven Woods (1903)
  • Discoveries (1907)
  • The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910)
  • The Cutting of an Agate (1912)
  • Poems Written in Discouragement (1913)
  • Responsibilities (1914)
  • Reveries Over Childhood and Youth (1916)
  • The Wild Swans at Coole (1817)
  • Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1918)
  • Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921)
  • Four Plays for Dancers (1921)
  • Four Years (1921)
  • The Cat and the Moon (1924)
  • A Vision (1925)
  • Estrangement (1926)
  • Autobiographies (1926)
  • October Blast (1927)
  • The Tower (1928)
  • The Winding Stair 91929)
  • The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933)
  • Collected Plays (1934)
  • A Full Moon in March (1935)
  • New Poems (1938)

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