William Butler Yeats
One of Ireland's finest writers, William Butler Yeats served a long apprenticeship in the arts before his genius was fully developed. He did some of his greatest work after he was fifty.
Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland, on June 13, 1865. His father was a lawyer-turned-Irish 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. Yeats spent much time with his grandparents in County Sligo in northwestern Ireland. The scenery and folklore of this region greatly influenced Yeats' work. For a while he studied art, but during the 1890s he became active in London's literary life and helped found the Rhymers' Club.
Yeats' early work was not especially Irish. Soon, however, he began to look to the ancient rituals and pagan beliefs of the land for his artistic inspiration. He tried to merge this interest with his aristocratic tastes to create an original Irish poetry and to establish his own identity.
In 1896 Yeats met Lady Gregory, an aristocrat and playwright who shared his interest in Ireland's past, especially in its folklore. In 1899 they formed a literary society that was the predecessor of the Abbey Theatre. Among his plays were 'The Countess Cathleen' (1892) and 'Cathleen ni Houlihan' (1902), with Maud Gonne in the title role. In 1899 he proposed to her, but she refused to marry him. As a means of getting closer to Maud, Yeats later proposed to her daughter, who also refused.
Yeats met Ezra Pound in 1912, and Pound became his fencing master and secretary during the winters of 1913 and 1914, and was a friend and confidante for the remainder of this life.
The suggestive, beautiful lyricism of Yeats’ early career (including such works as the famous ‘Sailing to Byzantium’) changed to the tune of spare and tragic bitterness as Ireland faced certain war in the early 1910s. This was apparent 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' 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. A free Ireland was Maud Gonne’s passion, and Yeats' love for her sparked his interest in the country's political struggles. From 1922 until 1928 he was a senator in the Dail Eireann, or Irish...