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W. B. Yeats 1865–1939

  • Neil McEwan
Chapter
Part of the Macmillan Anthologies of English Literature book series (AEL)

Abstract

William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin and educated at the Godolphin School, London, the High School, Dublin, and the School of Art, Dublin. His early volumes of romantic pre-Raphaelite verse were fortified by knowledge of Irish songs and legends. In 1896 he met Lady Gregory, an Anglo-Irish widow, with whom he founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (1904). His love for Maud Gonne, a fervent nationalist for whom he wrote the play The Countess Cathleen (performed in Dublin in 1899), involved him in Irish political movements; these activities later helped to make him a Senator in the Irish Free State (1922–8). In the Seven Woods (1903) and The Green Helmet (1910) include poems celebrating Maud Gonne’s beauty and his unrequited love. Yeats’s verse grew more colloquial and realistic with every volume. In The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), and The Tower (1928), he evolved a new kind of poetry, taut but graceful in style, enriched by images and symbols from the private, mystical ‘system’ he developed, encouraged by Georgie Hyde-Lees, whom he married in 1917, and set out in his prose-work The Vision (privately printed in 1926). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. Later volumes include Words for Music Perhaps (1931), The Winding Stair (1933), A Full Moon in March (1935) and Last Poems (1939).

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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1989

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  • Neil McEwan

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