William Butler Yeats
"Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people."
William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin on 13 June, 1865, the son of the Irish painter John B Yeats. He was schooled in London and in Dublin, where he studied painting, and vacationed in county Sligo, which inspired his enthusiasm for Irish tradition. In 1887 he moved with his family to London and became involved in Hindu philosophy, theosophy, and the occult. He wrote lyrical, symbolic poems on pagan Irish themes, such as The Wanderings of Oisin, and The Lake of Innisfree, in the romantic melancholy tone he believed characteristic of the ancient Celts. On a visit to Ireland he met Maude Gonne, whom he loved unrequitedly the rest of his life. She inspired much of his early work and drew him into the Irish nationalist movement for independence.
Yeats returned to Ireland in 1896. He became a close friend of the nationalist playwright Lady Gregory, whom he visited often at her estate at Coole Parke and with whom he travelled in Italy. With Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory he helped found what became the famous Abbey Theatre. As its director and dramatist, he helped develop the theatre into a centre of the Irish literary revival called the Irish Renaissance and one of the leading theatrical companies of the world.
In his poetry of this period, Yeats strove to abandon his earlier self-conscious softness and facility. His work, now less mystical and symbolic, became clearer and leaner.
As Yeats grew older, he turned to practical politics, serving in the Senate of the new Irish Free State. He also accomplished the feat, rare among poets, of deepening and perfecting his complex styles as the years advanced. His later writings are generally acknowledged to be his best. They were influenced by Georgie Hyde-Lees, his wife since 1917, who had a medium's gift for automated writing. A Vision is an elaborate attempt in prose to explain the mythology, symbolism, and philosophy that Yeats used in much of his work. It discusses the eternal opposites of objectivity and subjectivity, art and life, soul and body that are the basis of his philosophy.
Yeats also wrote short plays on the Celtic legendary hero Cuchulain, combined as Four Plays for Dancers. They were strongly influenced by the No drama of the Japanese court, which was being translated in 1913 by Ezra Pound. Yeats plays were designed more for small, appreciative audiences in aristocratic drawing rooms than for the middle-class public in commercial Dublin theatres. He derived much of his innovative technique, such as the use of ritual, masks, chorus, and the dance from the No drama. In these plays Yeats brought poetry back to theatre, from which it had long been absent, and fused strict realism with mythic vision to create poetic dramas as spare and pregnant with mysterious meaning as the images of a dream.
Continually revising his work, Yeats recounted episodes from his life in his Autobiographies and Dramatis Personae. He received the Nobel Prize in 1923. Yeats died in France, on 18 January, 1939.
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