William Butler Yeats- A History, Poem and Quote

William Butler Yeats- A History, Poem and Quote

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) has long been among my favorite writers. Having come from Irish stock, I was immediately attracted to the flavor of his  Irish style and his reliance on Irish folklore and legend for many of his works.

Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland, but the family lived in London from 1867 until late in 1889. They spent summers at his family’s summer house in Connaugh. His father, John Bulter Yeats was a lawyer as well as a portrait painter. His brother was also a painter. The name Butler came from one of his maternal grandmothers family.

The Home rule movement had become a strong force during his years in London, and upon returning to Dublin, it had a great a great influence on his writing. By 1897, he had returned to London, and soon co-founded a group of poets known as the Rhymers’ Club.

Although his first widely published work consisted of verses (1887), he loved dramatic production and much of his early work was in that area. He was a popular playwright an co-founder of the Irish Theatre (along with Lady Gregory) which later became the Abbey Theatre.

Yeats was fascinated by spiritualism and mysticism and it was often a subject in his works.  He joined a paranormal research association called ,“The Ghost Club” in 1911 and was involved in several other societies within this realm of thought. Some of the most well known plays with underlying themes in this area  were The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King’s Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907).

In 1896, Yeats had been introduced to Lady Gregory, after which time, Yeats work turned to a style that was more poetic and dramatic. He loved the use of elaborate costumes, using them often in his plays.

William Butler Yeats was highly spirited and outwardly opinionated. He despised the Nationalist movement which he saw as filled with hatred and bigotry.  His poetry, in particular took a stance against it in the period of  1910-20. After a tumultuous infatuation with Nationalist and Catholic convert, Maude Gonne, his poetry sometimes took on a cynical tone.

William Butler Yeats met Ezra Pound, an American poet, in 1909. who he spent a great deal of time with. When Pound published some of Yeats work with unauthorized  changes, their relationship became strained ,however Pounds introduction to the work of Japanese playwright Noh, who had a profound effect on his writing style.

Yeats had little success with relationships with women and by age 51, in 1916, he seemed desperate to produce an heir, After another brief encounter with Maude Gonne and her daughter, Yeats married 25-year-old Georgie Hyde-Lees  in October of 1916. The produced two children, Anne and Michael.   Georgie shared Yeats interest in the paranormal and they spent the first years of their marriage involved in the pursuit of contacting spirits, séances and using the services of “Spirit Guides. One book came of this period in his life.

Yeats was appointed to the Irish Senate in 1922 and served until 1928. This was a time when his popularity as a playwright was established and well appreciated.  Ironically, much of his greatest work was written after He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, but ironically, much of his greatest work was written after that time. The work that lead to his receiving the Nobel Prize dealt primarily with his dramatic productions, while he is best known today for his poetry and lyric productions. He produced five outstanding works in the field of poetry during the years form 1919 to 1940. His popularity came largely from his ability to make contrasts between the arts and life, and the cyclical nature of life and of trials and achievements.

Throughout his life, Yeats centered his work on mysticism, the occult, and religious and spiritual concepts from Buddhism,  and Hinduism to Christianity. In his later years, he even published a table where he assigned personalities on phases of the moon.  Many of my favorite of his works come from his early poetry and inspiring quotes, my favorites of which I have copied below. William Butler Yeats died on Jan. 28, 1939, in Roquebrune, France, after one of several periods of poor health.

Brown Penny  by William Butler Yeats

I whispered, ‘I am too young,’
And then, ‘I am old enough’;
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
‘Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.’
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

Quote by William Butler Yeats

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

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