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W.B. Yeats Poetry | An Introduction

| Wednesday September 21, 2011


William Butler Yeats

Yeats was born into a strongly Protestant family in 1865 in the Irish and largely Roman Catholic city of Dublin; Yeats was the son of Susan Pollexfen and John Butler Yeats; his mother was a member of a wealthy milling and shipping family; his father was originally a barrister but later followed his other son into painting.

He was educated at Godolphin School, Hammersmith and High School, Dublin. He studied at School of Art, Dublin and developed an interest in mystic religion and the supernatural. Yeats identified himself more with the Catholic majority in terms of their roots and ancient culture but rejected their religion; he enjoyed Irish ancient history and Celtic mythology.

  • Age 21 abandoned art for literature and edited several poetry volumes
  • 1889 First meeting with Maud Gonne
  • 1891-1892 Founded the Irish Literary Society in London (1891) and Dublin (1892)
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  • 1896 Affair with Olivia Shakespear
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  • 1897 First extended visit to Coole Park
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  • 1899 Established the Irish National theatre with help from Lady Gregory. Proposal to Maud Gonne
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  • 1900 Death of mother
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  • 1903 Maud Gonne marries John MacBride
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  • 1907 Abbey Theatre riots after performance of Synge’s ‘The Playboy of the Western World’
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  • 1912/13 Controversy over Lane bequest completes Yeats disillusionment with Irish politics
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  • 1917 Marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees
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  • 1922 Death of father
  • ­1922-28 Senator of Irish Free State
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  • 1923 Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature
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  • 1939 W.B. Yeats died in France
  • 1948 Body returned to Ireland and buried at Drumcliff, County Sligo

Themes and Interests

Yeats’s poetry is often split into three rough ‘periods’ that reflect his interests and concerns. His

earliest poetry often suggests his interests in Irish Nationalism and the so-called ‘Celtic Twilight’ poems reflect his interest in Ancient Irish Mythology and History and his hope for a revival in Irish literature; his ‘middle’ period reflects his keen interest in...

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