W. B. Yeats

    Character » W. B. Yeats appears in 8 issues.

    An Irish poet, dramatist, and politician.

    Short summary describing this character.

    W. B. Yeats last edited by renchamp on 09/25/18 02:52PM View full history


    William Butler Yeats was born into an artistic family in Ireland. He spent most of his youth in Sligo. In his youth the Irish nationalist movement was seeing a resurgence, and as a member of an Anglo-Irish, Protestant family, he was caught up in, but separate from, the tumultuous changes. In 1867 he moved along with his family to England, where he was schooled at home. In 1877 he began attending Godolphin primary school, where he would remain for the next four years. He was not noted as a particularly good student, and was a poor speller and mathematician. In 1880 the family returned to Ireland, and a year later Yeats resumed his formal education at Erasmus Smith High School. During his time back in Ireland he began to spend a great deal of time around Dublin's writing and painting communities. Also during this time he began writing, his first known poetry originating from when he was 17. In 1884 he began attending the Metropolitan School of Art, where he remained until 1886. His first published works came out when he was 20, and appeared in  the Dublin University Review. Also in 1886 his first solo work, Mosada: A Dramatic Poem, was released. His early poems were quite unlike his later poems, though as he began to dedicate more of his time to poetry he began to utilize the Irish mythology and folklore that would characterize his later work. He also drew a great deal of inspiration from William Blake.  

    Character Evolution

    In 1887 he again moved with his family to London. In 1889 he released a collection of poems, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, which was noted for its Gaelic themes, and which was based on Fenian mythology. It is also notable as his last attempt at a long poem. In 1890 he formed the Rhymer's Club along with a friend of his, Ernest Rhys. Together they met with various other young poets in a Fleet Street public house and shared their poetry with one another. Later this group became known as the "Tragic Generation". In 1891 Yeats published a novella and a story. In 1892 the Rhymer's Club released their first anthology, which was followed by another in 1894. Together with Edwin Ellis, Yeats worked on a complete collection of William Blake's works. Along with his interest in Irish mythology, Yeats also harboured an interest in mysticism, spirituality, astrology and the occult. He cited it as being a central influence both to his poetical works and other writing projects. In 1890 he was admitted into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and in 1895 he was involved in the Dublin Hermetic Society, as well as with the Theosophical Society. In 1896 he attended his first seance. From 1895 to 1899 he produced a series of poems that focused mainly on esotericism and romantic themes.  In 1911 he formed The Ghost Club, an early paranormal research society.  

    In 1899 Yeats, along with several other friends who had, along with him, been instrumental in the Irish Literary Revival, established the Irish Literary Theatre. The ideal for the theatre was to present Irish plays, and it survived for two years but did not thrive. After the failure of their first attempt they made another, the Irish National Theatre Society. In 1904 they opened the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. There they put on Yeats' play Cathleen Ni Houlihan, as well as another work on their opening night. In 1909 he met Ezra Pound, a poet and friend who occasionally acted as Yeats' secretary and who wrote out many works that were dictated to him by Yeats.  
    In 1922 Yeats was elected to the first incarnation of the Irish Senate. The next year he was was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, coincidentally shortly after Ireland had gained independence, a fact that he capitalized on. Because of the prize sales of his books went up and he was able to repay many of his debts, as well as those of his father. During his time in the Irish Senate he was involved in debates on divorce laws, where he came down on the side of divorce in what has been called one of his "supreme public moments". In 1924 he was the chair of a committee on the coinage of the new Irish Free State. In 1925 he was reappointed for a second term in the Senate. He retired in 1928 because of his failing health. After the First World War his sympathies had begun to slide back towards the aristocracy, and as the world sunk into the Great Depression he began to doubt in the efficacy of the democratic style of government. In 1934 he had a vasectomy and began a series of affairs with much younger women. Despite his failing health, he remained an amazingly prolific writer, which he attributed to his affairs. In 1936 he became editor of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892-1935. He died in France on January 28th, 1939 at the age of 74.     

    Personal Life

    In 1889 he first met Maud Gonne, with whom he became instantly infatuated. She became an inspiration for a great deal of his later work. In the beginning his infatuation went largely unrequited, in part because he did not get involved in the Irish nationalist movement about which Gonne was passionate. In 1891 he proposed marriage and was rejected.  He had a brief romantic fling with another woman between 1896, but this ended in 1897, and he remained infatuated with Gonne. He proposed marriage to her again in 1899, 1900 and 1901, and each time was again rejected. In 1903 she married another man, to Yeats' horror and heartbreak. Nonetheless they remained close, and consummated their relationship five years later. Yeats, however, seemed to be dissatisfied by their night together, and Gonne herself tried to discourage further such encounters. The year after she began sending him letters encouraging him to remember all the good that had been done by abstinent artists. In 1916 he again proposed to Gonne, though he was no longer truly interested in her, and when she refused as he expected, he proposed to her daughter, Iseult, who herself refused him. Next he proposed to Georgie Hyde-Lees, who accepted. They were married in October of 1916. Reportedly their marriage was a happy one, despite the fact that Georgie was 27 years his junior. 

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