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File:William But My Yeat by George Charles Beresford.jpg
William Butler Yeats photographed in 1911 by George Charles Beresford

William Butler Yeats (pronounced /ˈjeɪts/; 13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet, dramatist, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years Yeats served as an Irish Senator for two terms. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival, and along with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn founded the Abbey Theatre, serving as its chief during its early years. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for what the Nobel Committee described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation." He was the first Irishman so honored.[1] Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers whose greatest works were completed after being awarded the Nobel Prize;[2] such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929).

Yeats was born and educated in Dublin but spent his childhood in County Sligo. He studied poetry in his youth, and from an early age was fascinated by both Irish legends and the occult. Those topics feature in the first phase of his work, which lasted roughly until the turn of the century. His earliest volume of verse was published in 1889, and those slowly paced and lyrical poems display debts to Edmund Spenser and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as to the lyricism of the Pre-Raphaelite poets. From 1900, Yeats' poetry grew more physical and realistic. He largely renounced the transcendental beliefs of his youth, though he remained preoccupied with physical and spiritual masks, as well as with cyclical theories of life. Over the years, Yeats adopted many different ideological positions, including, in the words of the critic Michael Valdez Moses, "those of radical nationalist, classical liberal, reactionary conservative and millenarian nihilist".[3]

Contents

Life

Early years

William Butler Yeats was born in Sandymount, County Dublin, Ireland.[4] His father, John Butler Yeats, was a descendant of Jervis Yeats, a Williamite soldier and linen merchant who died in 1712.[5] Jervis' grandson Benjamin married Mary Butler, daughter of a landed family in County Kildare. At the time of his marriage, John Yeats was studying law but abandoned his studies to study art at Heatherley’s Art School in London.[6] His mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen, came from a wealthy Anglo-Irish family in County Sligo who owned a prosperous milling and shipping business. Soon after William's birth the family relocated to Sligo to stay with her extended family, and the young poet came to think of the area as his childhood and spiritual home. Its landscape became, over time, both literally and symbolically, his "country of the heart".[7] The Butler Yeats family were highly artistic; his brother Jack went on to be a highly regarded painter, while his sisters Elizabeth and Susan Mary—known to family and friends as Lollie and Lily—became involved in the Arts and Crafts movement.[8]

Yeats grew up as a member of the former Protestant Ascendancy at the time undergoing a crisis of identity. While his family was broadly supportive of the changes Ireland was experiencing, the nationalist revival of the late 19th century directly disadvantaged his heritage, and informed his outlook for the remainder of his life. In 1997, his biographer R. F. Foster observed that Napoleon's dictum that to understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty "is manifestly true of W.B.Y."[9] Yeats' childhood and young adulthood were shadowed by the power shift away from the minority Protestant Ascendancy. The 1880s saw the rise of Parnell and the Home rule movement, the 1890s the momentum of nationalism, while the Catholics became prominent around the turn of the century. These developments were to have a profound effect on his poetry, and his subsequent explorations of Irish identity had a significant influence on the creation of his country's biography.[10]

1907 Portrait by Augustus John

In 1876, the family moved to England to aid their father, John, to further his career as an artist. At first the Yeats children were educated at home. Their mother entertained them with stories and Irish folktales. John provided an erratic education in geography and chemistry, and took William on natural history explorations of the nearby Slough countryside.[11] On 26 January 1877, the young poet entered the Godolphin primary school,[12] which he attended for four years. He did not distinguish himself academically, and an early school report describes his performance as "only fair. Perhaps better in Latin than in any other subject. Very poor in spelling."[13] Though he had difficulty with mathematics and languages (possibly because Yeats was tone deaf[14]), he was fascinated by biology and zoology. For financial reasons, the family returned to Dublin toward the end of 1880, living at first in the city centre and later in the suburb of Howth. In October 1881, Yeats resumed his education at Dublin's Erasmus Smith High School.[15] His father's studio was located nearby and William spent a great deal of time there, and met many of the city's artists and writers. It was during this period that he started writing poetry, and, in 1885, Yeats' first poems, as well as an essay entitled "The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson", were published in the Dublin University Review. Between 1884 & 1886, William attended the Metropolitan School of Art—now the National College of Art and Design—in Thomas Street.[4] His first known works were written when he was seventeen, and include a poem heavily influenced by Percy Bysshe Shelley which describes a magician who set up his throne in central Asia. Other pieces from this period are a draft of a play involving a Bishop, a monk, and a woman accused of paganism by local shepherds, as well as love-poems and narrative lyrics on medieval German knights. The early works were both conventional and according to the critic Charles Johnson "utterly unIrish", seeming to come out of a "vast murmurous gloom of dreams".[16] Although Yeats' early works drew heavily on Shelley, Edmund Spenser, and on the diction and colouring of pre-Raphaelite verse, he soon turned to Irish myth and folklore and the writings of William Blake. In later life, Yeats paid tribute to Blake by describing him as one of the "great artificers of God who uttered great truths to a little clan".[17] In 1891, Yeats published "John Sherman" and "Dhoya", one was a novella ; the other, a story ; and both were among the earliest of his published compositions. The two were re-published together in 1990 by The Lilliput Press in Dublin.

Young poet

The family returned to London in 1887. In 1890, Yeats co-founded the Rhymers' Club with Ernest Rhys,[18] a group of London based poets who met regularly in a Fleet Street tavern to recite their verse. The collective later became known as the "Tragic Generation"[19] and published two anthologies: first in 1892 and again in 1894. He collaborated with Edwin Ellis on the first complete edition of William Blake's works, in the process rediscovering a forgotten poem "Vala, or, the Four Zoas". "[20] In a late essay on Shelley, Yeats wrote, "I have re-read Prometheus Unbound... and it seems to me to have an even more certain place than I had thought among the sacred books of the world."[21]

Yeats had a life-long interest in mysticism, spiritualism, occultism, and astrology. He read extensively on the subjects throughout his life, became a member of the paranormal research organization "The Ghost Club" (in 1911) and was especially influenced by the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg[22]. As early as 1892, he wrote: "If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written a single word of my Blake book, nor would The Countess Kathleen ever have come to exist. The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write."[23] His mystical interests—also inspired by a study of Hinduism, under the Theosophist Mohini Chatterjee, and the occult—formed much of the basis of his late poetry. However, some critics have dismissed these influences as lacking in intellectual credibility. In particular, W. H. Auden criticized this aspect of Yeats' work as the "deplorable spectacle of a grown man occupied with the mumbo-jumbo of magic and the nonsense of India."[24]

Yeats' first significant poem was "The Isle of Statues", a fantasy work that took Edmund Spenser for its poetic model. The piece appeared in Dublin University Review, but has not since been republished. His first solo publication was the pamphlet Mosada: A Dramatic Poem (1886), which comprised a print run of 100 copies paid for by his father. This was followed by the collection The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889), which arranged a series of verse that dated as far back as the mid-1880s. The long titular poem contains, in the words of his biographer R.F. Foster, "obscure Gaelic names, striking repetitions [and] an unremitting rhythm subtly varied as the poem proceeded through its three sections".[25]

We rode in sorrow, with strong hounds three,
Bran, Sgeolan, and Lomair,
On a morning misty and mild and fair.
The mist-drops hung on the fragrant trees,
And in the blossoms hung the bees.
We rode in sadness above Lough Lean,
For our best were dead on Gavra's green.

1908 Portrait by John Singer Sargent

"The Wanderings of Oisin" is based on the lyrics of the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology and displays the influence of both Sir Samuel Ferguson and the Pre-Raphaelite poets.[26] The poem took two years to complete and was one of the few works from this period that he did not disown in his maturity. Oisin introduces what was to become one of his most important themes: the appeal of the life of contemplation over the appeal of the life of action. Following the work, Yeats never again attempted another long poem. His other early poems, which are meditations on the themes of love or mystical and esoteric subjects, include Poems (1895), The Secret Rose (1897), and The Wind Among the Reeds (1899).

During 1885, Yeats was involved in the formation of the Dublin Hermetic Order. The society held its first meeting on 16 June, with Yeats acting as its chairman. The same year, the Dublin Theosophical lodge was opened in conjunction with Brahmin Mohini Chatterjee, who travelled from the Theosophical Society in London to lecture. Yeats attended his first séance the following year. He later became heavily involved with the Theosophical Society and with hermeticism, particularly with the eclectic Rosicrucianism of the Golden Dawn. During séances held from 1912, a spirit calling itself "Leo Africanus" apparently claimed to be Yeats' Daemon or anti-self, inspiring some of the speculations in Per Amica Silentia Lunae.[27] He was admitted into the Golden Dawn in March 1890 and took the magical motto Daemon est Deus inversus—translated as Devil is God inverted or A demon is a god reflected.[28] He was an active recruiter for the sect's Isis-Urania temple, and brought in his uncle George Pollexfen, Maud Gonne, and Florence Farr. Although he reserved a distaste for abstract and dogmatic religions founded around personality cults, he was attracted to the type of people he met at the Golden Dawn.[29] He was involved in the Order's power struggles, both with Farr and Macgregor Mathers, but was most notably involved when Mathers sent Aleister Crowley to repossess Golden Dawn paraphernalia during the "Battle of Blythe Road". After the Golden Dawn ceased and splintered into various offshoots, Yeats remained with the Stella Matutina until 1921.[30]

Maud Gonne

In 1889, Yeats met Maud Gonne, then a 23-year-old heiress and ardent Nationalist.[31] Gonne was eighteen months younger than Yeats and later claimed she met the poet as a "paint-stained art student."[32] Gonne had admired "The Isle of Statues" and sought out his acquaintance. Yeats developed an obsessive infatuation with her beauty and outspoken manner, and she was to have a significant and lasting effect on his poetry and his life thereafter.[33]

Maud Gonne c. 1900

In later years he admitted "it seems to me that she [Gonne] brought into my life those days—for as yet I saw only what lay upon the surface—the middle of the tint, a sound as of a Burmese gong, an over-powering tumult that had yet many pleasant secondary notes."[34] Yeats' love remained unrequited, in part due to his reluctance to participate in her nationalist activism.[35] His only other love affair during this period was with Olivia Shakespear, whom he had first met in 1896, and parted with one year later. In 1891, he visited Gonne in Ireland and proposed marriage, but was rejected. He later admitted that from that point "the troubling of my life began". [36] Yeats proposed to Gonne three more times: in 1899, 1900 and 1901. She refused each proposal, and in 1903, to his horror, married the Irish nationalist Major John MacBride.[37]

Yeats' friendship with Gonne persisted, and, in Paris, in 1908, they finally consummated their relationship.[citation needed] "The long years of fidelity rewarded at last" was how another of his lovers described the event. Yeats was less sentimental and later remarked that "the tragedy of sexual intercourse is the perpetual virginity of the soul."[36] The relationship did not develop into a new phase after their night together, and soon afterwards Gonne wrote to the poet indicating that despite the physical consummation, they could not continue as they had been: "I have prayed so hard to have all earthly desire taken from my love for you & dearest, loving you as I do, I have prayed & I am praying still that the bodily desire for me may be taken from you too."[38] By January 1909, Gonne was sending Yeats letters praising the advantage given to artists who abstain from sex. Nearly twenty years later, Yeats recalled the night with Gonne in his poem "A Man Young and Old":

My arms are like the twisted thorn
And yet there beauty lay;
The first of all the tribe lay there
And did such pleasure take;
She who had brought great Hector down
And put all Troy to wreck.

In 1896, Yeats was introduced to Lady Gregory by their mutual friend Edward Martyn. Gregory encouraged Yeats' nationalism, and convinced him to continue focusing on writing drama. Although he was influenced by French Symbolism, Yeats concentrated on an identifiably Irish content and this inclination was reinforced by his involvement with a new generation of younger and emerging Irish authors. Together with Lady Gregory, Martyn, and other writers including J. M. Synge, Sean O'Casey, and Padraic Colum, Yeats was one of those responsible for the establishment of the "Irish Literary Revival" movement.[39] Apart from these creative writers, much of the impetus for the Revival came from the work of scholarly translators who were aiding in the discovery of both the ancient sagas and Ossianic poetry and the more recent folk song tradition in Irish. One of the most significant of these was Douglas Hyde, later the first President of Ireland, whose Love Songs of Connacht was widely admired.

Abbey Theatre

In 1899, Yeats, Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and George Moore established the Irish Literary Theatre for the purpose of performing Celtic and Irish plays.[40] The ideals of the Abbey were derived from the avant-garde French theatre, which sought to express the "ascendancy of the playwright rather than the actor-manager à l'anglais."[41][42] The group's manifesto, which Yeats himself wrote, declared "We hope to find in Ireland an uncorrupted & imaginative audience trained to listen by its passion for oratory... & that freedom to experiment which is not found in the theatres of England, & without which no new movement in art or literature can succeed."[43]

The collective survived for about two years and was not successful. However, working together with two Irish brothers with theatrical experience, William and Frank Fay, Yeats' unpaid-yet-independently wealthy secretary Annie Elizabeth Fredericka Horniman, and the leading West End actress Florence Farr, the group established the Irish National Theatre Society. This group of founders was able, along with J.M. Synge, to acquire property in Dublin and open the Abbey Theatre on 27 December, 1904. Yeats' play Cathleen Ní Houlihan and Lady Gregory's Spreading the News were featured on the opening night. Yeats continued to be involved with the Abbey until his death, both as a member of the board and a prolific playwright. In 1902, he helped set up the Dun Emer Press to publish work by writers associated with the Revival. This became the Cuala Press in 1904, and inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, sought to "find work for Irish hands in the making of beautiful things."[44] From then until its closure in 1946, the press—which was run by the poet's sisters—produced over 70 titles; 48 of them books by Yeats himself.

The Abbey Theatre

In 1913, Yeats met the American poet Ezra Pound. Pound had travelled to London at least partly to meet the older man, whom he considered "the only poet worthy of serious study."[45] From that year until 1916, the two men wintered in the Stone Cottage at Ashdown Forest, with Pound nominally acting as Yeats' secretary. The relationship got off to a rocky start when Pound arranged for the publication in the magazine Poetry of some of Yeats' verse with Pound's own unauthorised alterations. These changes reflected Pound's distaste for Victorian prosody. A more indirect influence was the scholarship on Japanese Noh plays that Pound had obtained from Ernest Fenollosa's widow, which provided Yeats with a model for the aristocratic drama he intended to write. The first of his plays modelled on Noh was At the Hawk's Well, the first draft of which he dictated to Pound in January 1916.[46]

In his early work, Yeats' aristocratic pose led to an idealisation of the Irish peasant and a willingness to ignore poverty and suffering. However, the emergence of a revolutionary movement from the ranks of the urban, mostly Roman Catholic lower-middle class made him reassess his attitudes. His new direct engagement with politics can be seen in the poem September 1913, with its well-known refrain "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone / It's with O'Leary in the grave." The poem is an attack on the Dublin employers who were involved in the 1913 Dublin Lockout of workers, and it supports James Larkin's attempts to organise the Irish labour movement. In the refrain of "Easter 1916" ("All changed, changed utterly / A terrible beauty is born"), Yeats faces his own failure to recognise the merits of the leaders of the Easter Rising, due to his attitude towards their humble backgrounds and lives.[47]

Marriage to Georgie

By 1916, Yeats was 51 years old and determined to marry and produce an heir. His final proposal to Maud Gonne took place in the summer of 1916.[48] In his view, Gonne's history of revolutionary political activism, as well as a series of personal catastrophes in the previous few years of her life, including chloroform addiction and a troubled marriage to John MacBride—an Irish revolutionary who was later executed by British forces for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising—made her an unsuitable wife.[36] Biographer R.F. Foster has observed that Yeats' last offer was motivated more by a sense of duty than by a genuine desire to marry Gonne.

Yeats photographed in 1908 by Alvin Langdon Coburn

Yeats made his proposal in an indifferent manner, with conditions attached, and he both expected and hoped to be turned down. According to Foster "when he duly asked Maud to marry him, and was duly refused, his thoughts shifted with surprising speed to her daughter". Iseult Gonne was Maud's second child with Lucien Millevoye, and at the time was twenty-one years old. She had lived a sad life to this point; conceived as an attempt to reincarnate her short-lived brother, for the first few years of her life, she was presented as her mother's adopted niece. She was molested by her stepfather when she was eleven,[49] and later worked as a gunrunner for the Irish Republican Army. At fifteen, she proposed to Yeats. A few months after the poet's approach to Maud, he proposed to Iseult, but was rejected.

That September, Yeats proposed to twenty-four year old George (Georgie) Hyde-Lees (1892–1968), whom he had met through occult circles. Despite warning from her friends—"George ... you can't. He must be dead"—Hyde-Lees accepted, and the two were married on 20 October.[36] Their marriage was a success, in spite of the age difference, and in spite of Yeats' feelings of remorse and regret during their honeymoon. The couple went on to have two children, Anne and Michael. Although in later years he had romantic relationships with other women and possibly affairs, George herself wrote to her husband "When you are dead, people will talk about your love affairs, but I shall say nothing, for I will remember how proud you were."[50]

During the first years of his marriage, he and George engaged in a form of automatic writing, which involved George contacting a variety of spirits and guides, which they termed "Instructors". The spirits communicated a complex and esoteric system of characters and history which they developed during experiments with the circumstances of trance and the exposition of phases, cones, and gyres.[51] Yeats devoted much time to preparing this material for publication as A Vision (1925). In 1924, he wrote to his publisher T. Werner Laurie admitting: "I dare say I delude myself in thinking this book my book of books".[52]

Nobel Prize

In December 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was determined to make the most of the occasion. He was aware of the symbolic value of an Irish winner so soon after Ireland had gained independence, and sought to highlight the fact at each available opportunity. His reply to the many of the letters of congratulations sent to him contained the words: "I consider that this honor has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature, it is part of Europe's welcome to the Free State."[53] Yeats used the occasion of his acceptance lecture at the Royal Academy of Sweden to present himself as a standard-bearer of Irish nationalism and Irish cultural independence. As he remarked, "The theatres of Dublin were empty buildings hired by the English travelling companies, and we wanted Irish plays and Irish players. When we thought of these plays we thought of everything that was romantic and poetical, because the nationalism we had called up—the nationalism every generation had called up in moments of discouragement—was romantic and poetical."[3] The prize led to a significant increase in the sales of his books, as his publishers Macmillan sought to capitalise on the publicity. For the first time he had money, and he was able to repay not only his own debts, but those of his father.[54]

Old age and death

By early 1925, Yeats's health had stabilized, and he had completed most of the writing for "A Vision" (dated 1925, it actually appeared in January 1926, when he almost immediately started rewriting it for a second version). He had been appointed to the first Irish Senate in 1922, and was re-appointed for a second term in 1925.[55] Early in his tenure, a debate on divorce arose, and Yeats viewed the issue as primarily a confrontation between the emerging Roman Catholic ethos and the Protestant minority.[56] When the Roman Catholic Church weighed in with a blanket refusal to consider their anti position, the Irish Times countered that a measure to outlaw divorce would alienate Protestants and "crystallize" the partition of Northern Ireland.

William Butler Yeats, 1933. Unknown photographer. U.S. Library of Congress.

In response, Yeats delivered a series of speeches in which he attacked the "quixotically impressive" ambitions of the government and clergy, likening their campaign tactics to that of "medieval Spain".[57] "Marriage is not to us a Sacrament, but, upon the other hand, the love of a man and woman, and the inseparable physical desire, are sacred. This conviction has come to us through ancient philosophy and modern literature, and it seems to us a most sacrilegious thing to persuade two people who hate each other...to live together, and it is to us no remedy to permit them to part if neither can re-marry."[57] The resulting debate has been described as one of Yeats's "supreme public moments", and began his ideological move away from pluralism towards religious confrontation.[58] His language became more forceful; the Jesuit Father Peter Finlay was described by Yeats as a man of "monstrous discourtesy", and he lamented that, "It is one of the glories of the Church in which I was born that we have put our Bishops in their place in discussions requiring legislation".[57] During his time in the Senate, Yeats further warned his colleagues: "If you show that this country, southern Ireland, is going to be governed by Roman Catholic ideas and by Catholic ideas alone, you will never get the North...You will put a wedge in the midst of this nation".[59] He memorably said of his fellow Irish Protestants, "we are no petty people".

In 1924, he chaired a coinage committee charged with selecting a set of designs for the first currency of the Irish Free State. Aware of the symbolic power latent in the imagery of a young state's currency, he sought a form that was "elegant, racy of the soil, and utterly unpolitical".[60] When the house finally decided on the artwork of Percy Metcalfe, Yeats was pleased, though he regretted that compromise had led to "lost muscular tension" in the finally depicted images.[60] He retired from the Senate in 1928 due to ill health.

Yeats's gravestone in Drumcliffe, County Sligo.

Towards the end of his life—and especially after the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression, which led some to question whether democracy would be able to cope with deep economic difficulty—Yeats seems to have returned to his aristocratic sympathies. During the aftermath of the First World War, he became sceptical about the efficacy of democratic government, and anticipated political reconstruction in Europe through totalitarian rule.[61] His later association with Pound drew him towards Benito Mussolini, for whom he expressed admiration on a number of occasions.[3] He wrote three "marching songs"—never used—for the Irish General Eoin O'Duffy's Blueshirts. However, when Pablo Neruda invited him to visit Madrid in 1937, Yeats responded with a letter supporting the Republic against Fascism, and he distanced himself from Fascism in the last years of his life.

After undergoing the Steinach operation (vasectomy) in 1934, when aged 69, he found a new vigour evident from both his poetry and his intimate relations with younger women.[62] During this time, Yeats was involved in a number of romantic affairs with, among others, the poet and actress Margot Ruddock, and the novelist, journalist and sexual radicalist Ethel Mannin.[63] As in his earlier life, Yeats found erotic adventure conducive to his creative energy, and, despite age and ill-health, he remained a prolific writer. In a letter of 1935, Yeats noted: "I find my present weakness made worse by the strange second puberty the operation has given me, the ferment that has come upon my imagination. If I write poetry it will be unlike anything I have done".[64] In 1936, he undertook editorship of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892–1935.[37]

He died at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France, on 28 January 1939.[4] He was buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Yeats and George had often discussed his death, and his express wish was to be buried quickly in France with a minimum of fuss. According to George, "His actual words were 'If I die bury me up there [at Roquebrune] and then in a year's time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo'."[65] In September 1948, Yeats' body was moved to Drumcliffe, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette LÉ Macha.[66] His epitaph is taken from the last lines of "Under Ben Bulben", one of his final poems:

Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by.

Style

Yeats is generally considered to be one of the twentieth century's key English language poets. He can be considered a Symbolist poet in that he used allusive imagery and symbolic structures throughout his career. Yeats chose words and assembled them so that in addition to a particular meaning they suggest other abstract thoughts that may seem more significant and resonant. His use of symbols[67] is usually something physical which is used both to be itself and to suggest other, perhaps immaterial, timeless qualities.[68]

Yeats as depicted on the Irish £20 banknote, issued 1976–1993.

Unlike other modernists who experimented with free verse, Yeats was a master of the traditional forms.[69] The impact of modernism on his work can be seen in the increasing abandonment of the more conventionally poetic diction of his early work in favour of the more austere language and more direct approach to his themes that increasingly characterises the poetry and plays of his middle period, comprising the volumes In the Seven Woods, Responsibilities and The Green Helmet.[70] His later poetry and plays are written in a more personal vein, and the works written in the last twenty years of his life include mention of his son and daughter,[71] as well as meditations on the experience of growing old.[72] In his poem, "The Circus Animals' Desertion", he describes the inspiration for these late works:

Now that my ladder's gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.[73]

During 1929, he stayed at Thoor Ballylee (coordinates 53°06'11.4"N, 08°46'29.2"W), near Gort in County Galway (where Yeats had his summer home since 1919) for the last time. Much of the remainder of his life was lived outside of Ireland, although he did lease Riversdale house in the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham in 1932. He wrote prolifically through his final years, and published poetry, plays, and prose. In 1938, he attended the Abbey for the final time to see the premier of his play Purgatory. His Autobiographies of William Butler Yeats was published that same year.[74]

Yeats photographed in 1923

While Yeats' early poetry drew heavily on Irish myth and folklore, his later work was engaged with more contemporary issues, and his style underwent a dramatic transformation. His work can be divided into three general periods. The early poems are lushly pre-Raphaelite in tone, self-consciously ornate, and, at times, according to unsympathetic critics, stilted. Yeats began by writing epic poems such as The Isle of Statues and The Wanderings of Oisin. After Oisin, he never attempted another long poem.[75] His other early poems are lyrics on the themes of love or mystical and esoteric subjects. Yeats' middle period saw him abandon the pre-Raphaelite character of his early work[76] and attempt to turn himself into a Landor-style social ironist.[77] Critics who admire his middle work might characterize it as supple and muscular in its rhythms and sometimes harshly modernist, while others find these poems barren and weak in imaginative power. Yeats' later work found new imaginative inspiration in the mystical system he began to work out for himself under the influence of spiritualism. In many ways, this poetry is a return to the vision of his earlier work. The opposition between the worldly-minded man of the sword and the spiritually-minded man of God, the theme of The Wanderings of Oisin, is reproduced in A Dialogue Between Self and Soul.[78]

Some critics claim that Yeats spanned the transition from the nineteenth century into twentieth-century modernism in poetry much as Pablo Picasso did in painting while others question whether late Yeats really has much in common with modernists of the Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot variety.[79] Modernists read the well-known poem "The Second Coming" as a dirge for the decline of European civilisation in the mode of Eliot, but later critics have pointed out that this poem is an expression of Yeats' apocalyptic mystical theories, and thus the expression of a mind shaped by the 1890s. His most important collections of poetry started with The Green Helmet (1910) and Responsibilities (1914). In imagery, Yeats' poetry became sparer, more powerful as he grew older. The Tower (1928), The Winding Stairs (1929), and New Poems (1938) contained some of the most potent images in twentieth-century poetry.

Yeats' mystical inclinations, informed by Hindu Theosophical beliefs and the occult, formed much of the basis of his late poetry,[80] which some critics have judged as lacking in intellectual credibility. The metaphysics of Yeats' late works must be read in relation to his system of esoteric fundamentalities in A Vision (1925).[81]

His 1920 poem, "The Second Coming" contains some of literature's most potent images of the twentieth century.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.[82]

According to some interpretations 'the best' referred to the traditional ruling classes of Europe who were unable to protect the traditional culture of Europe from materialistic mass movements. The concluding lines refer to Yeats' belief that history was cyclic, and that his age represented the end of the cycle that began with the rise of Christianity.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?[83]

Notes

  1. ^ The Nobel Prize in Literature 1923. Nobelprize.org. Retrieved on 3 June 2007.
  2. ^ Frenz, Horst (Edit.). The Nobel Prize in Literature 1923. "Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901–1967", 1969. Retrieved on 23 May 2007.
  3. ^ a b c Moses, Michael Valdez. "The Poet As Politician". Reason, February 2001. Retrieved on 3 June 2007.
  4. ^ a b c Obituary. "W.B. Yeats Dead". The New York Times, 30 January 1939. Retrieved on 21 May 2007.
  5. ^ Jeffares, A. Norman. W. B. Yeats, Man and Poet. Palgrave Macmillan, 1996. 1
  6. ^ "John Butler Yeats". Retrieved on 12 October 2007.
  7. ^ The Collected Poems (1994), vii
  8. ^ Gordon Bowe, Nicola. "Two Early Twentieth-Century Irish Arts and Crafts Workshops in Context". Journal of Design History, Vol. 2, No. 2/3 (1989). 193–206
  9. ^ Foster (1997), xxviii
  10. ^ Foster (1997), xxvii
  11. ^ Foster (1997), 24
  12. ^ Hone (1943), 28
  13. ^ Foster (1997), 25
  14. ^ Sessa, Anne Dzamba; Richard Wagner and the English; p. 130. ISBN 0838620558
  15. ^ Hone (1943), 33
  16. ^ Foster (1997), 37
  17. ^ Paulin, Tom. Taylor & Francis, 2004. "The Poems of William Blake". Retrieved on 3 June 2007.
  18. ^ Hone (1943), 83
  19. ^ Alford, Norman. "The Rhymers" Club: Poets of the Tragic Generation". Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 50, No. 4, March 1996. 535–538
  20. ^ Lancashire, Ian. "William Blake (1757–1827)". Department of English, University of Toronto, 2005. Retrieved on 3 June 2007.
  21. ^ Yeats (1900), 65
  22. ^ Burke, Martin J. "Daidra from Philadelphia: Thomas Holley, Chivers and The Sons of Usna". Columbia University, 7 October 2005. Retrieved on 15 July 2007.
  23. ^ Ellmann, Richard (1948). "Yeats: The Man and the Masks". (New York) Macmillan. 94
  24. ^ Mendelson, Edward (Ed.) "W. H. Auden". The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Volume II, 1939–1948, 2002. Retrieved on 26 May 2007.
  25. ^ Foster (1997), 82–85
  26. ^ Alspach, Russell K. "The Use by Yeats and Other Irish Writers of the Folklore of Patrick Kennedy". The Journal of American Folklore, Volume 59, No. 234, December 1946. 404–412
  27. ^ Nally, Claire V. "National Identity Formation in W. B. Yeats' 'A Vision'". Irish Studies Review, Volume 14, Issue 1, February 2006. 57–67
  28. ^ Daemon est Deus inversus is taken from the writings of Madame Blavatsky in which she claims that "...even that divine Homogeneity must contain in itself the essence of both good and evil", and uses the motto as a symbol of the Astral Light.
  29. ^ Foster (1997), 103
  30. ^ Cullingford, Elizabeth. "How Jacques Molay Got Up the Tower: Yeats and the Irish Civil War". ELH, Volume 50, No. 4, 1983. 763–789
  31. ^ Gonne claimed they first met in London three years earlier. Foster notes how Gonne was "notoriously unreliable on dates and places (1997, 57)
  32. ^ Foster (1997), 57
  33. ^ Uddin Khan, Jalal. "Yeats and Maud Gonne: (Auto)biographical and Artistic Intersection". Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, 2002.
  34. ^ Foster (1997), 86–87
  35. ^ "William Butler Yeats". BBC Four. Retrieved on 20 June 2007.
  36. ^ a b c d Cahill, Christopher. "Second Puberty: The Later Years of W. B. Yeats Brought His Best Poetry, along with Personal Melodrama on an Epic Scale". The Atlantic Monthly, December 2003.
  37. ^ a b Ó Corráin, Donnchadh. "William Butler Yeats". University College Cork. Retrieved on 15 July 2007.
  38. ^ Foster (1997), 394
  39. ^ Corcoran, Neil. After Yeats and Joyce: Reading Modern Irish Literature. (Oxford), Oxford University Press, 1997. viii
  40. ^ Foster (2003), 486; 662
  41. ^ Foster (1997), 183
  42. ^ Text reproduced from Yeats' own handwritten draft.
  43. ^ Foster (1997), 184
  44. ^ "Irish Genius': The Yeats Family and The Cuala Press". Trinity College, Dublin, 12 February 2004. Retrieved on 2 June 2007.
  45. ^ Monroe, Harriet (1913). "Poetry". (Chicago) Modern Poetry Association. 123
  46. ^ Sands, Maren. "The Influence of Japanese Noh Theater on Yeats". Colorado State University. Retrieved on 15 July 2007.
  47. ^ Foster (2003), 59–66
  48. ^ Mann, Neil. "An Overview of A Vision". "The System of W. B. Yeats’s A Vision". Retrieved on 15 July 2007.
  49. ^ Foster (1997), 286
  50. ^ Brown, Terence. "The Life of W. B. Yeats: A Critical Biography‎". WileyBlackwell, 2001. 347. ISBN 0-6312-2851-9
  51. ^ Foster (2003), 105; 383
  52. ^ Mann, Neil. "Letter 27 July 1924". "The System of W. B. Yeats’s A Vision". Retrieved on 24 April 2008.
  53. ^ Foster (2003), 245
  54. ^ Foster (2003), 246–247
  55. ^ Foster (2003), 228–239
  56. ^ Foster (2003), 293
  57. ^ a b c Foster (2003), 294
  58. ^ Foster (2003), 296
  59. ^ "Seanad Resumes: Debate on Divorce Legislation Resumed". Seanad Éireann, Volume 5, 11 June 1925. Retrieved on 26 May 2007.
  60. ^ a b Foster (2003), 333
  61. ^ Foster (2003), 468
  62. ^ "The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats ". National Library of Ireland (search for Steinach). Retrieved on 19 October 2008.
  63. ^ Foster (2003), 504, 510–511
  64. ^ Letter to Dorothy Wellesley, June 17, 1935; cited Ellmann, "Yeats's Second Puberty", New York Review of Books, May 9, 1985
  65. ^ Foster (2003), 651
  66. ^ Foster (2003), 656
  67. ^ Ulanov, Barry. "Makers of the modern theater". McGraw-Hill, 1961
  68. ^ Gale Research International. Twentieth Century Literary Criticism 116. Gale Cengage Learning, 2002. 303
  69. ^ Finneran, Richard. Yeats: An Annual of Critical and Textual Studies 1995. University of Michigan Press, 1997. 82
  70. ^ Logenbach, James. Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. 13–14
  71. ^ Bell, Vereen. Yeats and the logic of formalism. University of Missouri Press, 2006. 132
  72. ^ Seiden, Morton. William Butler Yeats. Michigan State University Press, 1962. 179
  73. ^ O'Neill, 6
  74. ^ Martin, Wallace. Review of "Tragic Knowledge: Yeats' "Autobiography" and Hermeneutics" by Daniel T. O'Hara. Contemporary Literature. Volume 23, No. 2, Spring, 1982. 239–243
  75. ^ Howes, Marjorie. Yeats's nations: gender, class, and Irishness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 28–31
  76. ^ Seiden, 153
  77. ^ Bloom, Harold. Yeats. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972. 168 ISBN 0195016033
  78. ^ Raine, Kathleen. "Yeats the Initiate". New York: Barnes & Noble, 1990. 327-329. ISBN 0-3892-0951-1
  79. ^ Holderman, David. The Cambridge Introduction to W.B. Yeats. Cambridge University Press, 2006. 80
  80. ^ Lorenz, Dagmar C. G. "Transforming the center, eroding the margins". University of Rochester Press, 2004. 282. ISBN 1-5804-6175-1
  81. ^ Powell, Grosvenor E. "Yeats's Second "Vision": Berkeley, Coleridge, and the Correspondence with Sturge Moore". The Modern Language Review, Vol. 76, No. 2, April 1981. 273
  82. ^ O'Neill, 58
  83. ^ O'Neill, 61

Sources

  • Cleeve, Brian (1972). W.B. Yeats and the Designing of Ireland's Coinage. New York: Dolmen Press. ISBN 0-8510-5221-5
  • Foster, R. F. (1997). W. B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. I: The Apprentice Mage. New York: Oxford UP. ISBN 0-19-288085-3
  • Foster, R. F. (2003). W. B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. II: The Arch-Poet 1915–1939. New York: Oxford UP. ISBN 0-1981-8465-4
  • Hone, Joseph (1943). W.B. Yeats, 1865–1939. New York: Macmillan Publishers. OCLC: 35607726
  • Igoe, Vivien (1994). A Literary Guide to Dublin. Methuen Publishing. ISBN 0413691209
  • Longenbach, James (1988). Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism. New York: Oxford UP. ISBN 0-19-506662-6
  • O'Neill, Michael. Routledge Literary Sourcebook on the Poems of W.B. Yeats . Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0-4152-3475-1.
  • Ryan, Philip B. (1998). The Lost Theatres of Dublin. Wiltshire: The Badger Press. ISBN 0-9526076-1-1
  • Yeats, W. B. (1994). "The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats" Wordsworth Poetry Library. ISBN 1-8532-6454-7
  • Yeats, W. B. (1900). "The Philosophy of Shelley's Poetry", in Essays and Introductions, 1961. New York: Macmillan Publishers. OCLC 362823

Further reading

  • Croft, Barbara L. (1987). Stylistic Arrangements: A Study of William Butler Yeat's A Vision, Bucknell University Press. ISBN 0838750877
  • Jeffares, A Norman (1968). A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804706611
  • Jeffares, A Norman (1984). A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats. Stanford UP. ISBN 0804712212
  • Jeffares, A Norman (1989). W B Yeats: A New Biography. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374285888
  • King, Francis (1978). The Magical World of Aleister Crowley. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, ISBN 0698108841
  • King, Francis (1989). Modern Ritual Magic: The Rise of Western Occultism. ISBN 1-85327-032-6.
  • McCormack, W. J. (2005). Blood Kindred: The Politics of W. B. Yeats and His Death. Pimilico ISBN 0712665145
  • Menon, Dr.V. K. Narayana, Development of William Butler Yeats
  • Pritchard, William H. (1972). W. B. Yeats: A Critical Anthology. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-08-0791-8.
  • Raine, Kathleen (1972), Yeats, the tarot, and the Golden Dawn, Dolmen Press, ISBN 0851051952
  • Vendler, Helen (2004). Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats, Harvard University Press
  • Vendler, Helen (2007). Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form, Harvard University Press

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
What more is there to say?

William Butler Yeats (13 June 186528 January 1939) was an Irish poet, dramatist and mystic. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He compiled the Oxford Book of Modern Verse.

See also: The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats

Contents

Sourced

  • The only business of the head in the world is to bow a ceaseless obeisance to the heart.
    • Letter to Frederick J. Gregg (undated, Sligo, late summer, 1886)
  • This melancholy London. I sometimes imagine that the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually. One feels them passing like a whiff of air.
  • I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all — the colleges I mean — like an opera.
  • I hate journalists. There is nothing in them but tittering jeering emptiness. They have all made what Dante calls the Great Refusal, — that is they have ceased to be self-centered, have given up their individuality.... The shallowest people on the ridge of the earth.
  • Words are always getting conventionalized to some secondary meaning. It is one of the works of poetry to take the truants in custody and bring them back to their right senses.
  • The years like great black oxen tread the world,
    And God the herdsman goads them on behind,
    And I am broken by their passing feet.
  • We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.
    • "Earth, Fire and Water" from The Celtic Twilight (1893)
  • The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent to walk the earth.
    • Letter to the Editor, Dublin Daily Express (1895-02-27)
  • The friends that have it I do wrong
    Whenever I remake a song
    Should know what issue is at stake,
    It is myself that I remake.
    • The Collected Works in Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats, II, preliminary poem (1908)
  • We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.** Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1918): Anima Hominis, part v
  • One day when I was twenty-three or twenty-four this sentence seemed to form in my head, without my willing it, much as sentences form when we are half-asleep: "Hammer your thoughts into unity." For days I could think of nothing else, and for years I tested all I did by that sentence.
    • "If I Were Four-and-Twenty," printed in Irish Statesman (1919-08-23)
  • This country will not always be an uncomfortable place for a country gentleman to live in, and it is most important that we should keep in this country a certain leisured class. I am afraid that Labour disagrees with me in that. On this matter I am a crusted Tory. I am of the opinion of the ancient Jewish book which says "there is no wisdom without leisure."
  • I think you can leave the arts, superior or inferior, to the conscience of mankind.
    • Speech (1923-06-07), Seanad Éireann (Irish Free Senate), on the Censorship of Films Bill. [2]
  • The official designs of the Government, especially its designs in connection with postage stamps and coinage, may be described, I think, as the silent ambassadors of national taste.
    • Speech (1926-03-03), Seanad Éireann (Irish Free Senate), on the Coinage Bill. [3]
  • Englishmen are babes in philosophy and so prefer faction-fighting to the labour of its unfamiliar thought.
  • Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.
    • Letter to Lady Elizabeth Pelham (1939-01-04)

Crossways (1889)

  • Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
    She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
    She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
    But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.

    In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
    And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
    She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
    But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

  • Where dips the rocky highland
    Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
    There lies a leafy island
    Where flapping herons wake
    The drowsy water rats;
    There we've hid our faery vats,
    Full of berries
    And of reddest stolen cherries.

    Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

The Song Of The Happy Shepherd

  • The woods of Arcady are dead,
    And over is their antique joy;
    Of old the world on dreaming fed;
    Grey Truth is now her painted toy;
    Yet still she turns her restless head.
    • l. 1–5
  • Words alone are certain good.
    • l. 10
  • Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.
    • l. 57

The Rose (1893)

  • I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
    And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

    Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
    And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
    And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow
    Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
  • I will arise and go now, for always night and day
    I hear the lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
    While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
    I hear it in the deep heart's core.
    • The Lake Isle of Innisfree, st. 3
  • A pity beyond all telling
    Is hid in the heart of love:
    The folk who are buying and selling,
    The clouds on their journey above,
    The cold wet winds ever blowing,
    And the shadowy hazel grove
    Where mouse-grey waters are flowing,
    Threaten the head that I love.
  • The brawling of a sparrow in the eaves,
    The brilliant moon and all the milky sky,
    And all that famous harmony of leaves,
    Had blotted out man’s image and his cry.
  • When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
    And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
    And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
    Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

    How many loved your moments of glad grace,
    And loved your beauty with love false or true,
    But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
    And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

    And bending down beside the glowing bars,
    Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
    And paced upon the mountains overhead
    And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

The Rose of the World

  • Who dreamed that beauty passes like a dream?
    For those red lips, with all their mournful pride,
    Mournful that no new wonder may betide,
    Troy passed away in one high funeral gleam,
    And Usna's children died.
    • St. 1
  • We and the labouring world are passing by:
    Amid men's souls, that waver and give place
    Like the pale waters in their wintry race,
    Under the passing stars, foam of the sky,
    Lives on this lonely face.
    • St. 2
  • Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode:
    Before you were, or any hearts to beat,
    Weary and kind one lingered by His seat;
    He made the world to be a grassy road
    Before her wandering feet.
    • St. 3

The Land of Heart's Desire (1894)

  • The Land of Faery,
    Where nobody gets old and godly and grave,
    Where nobody gets old and crafty and wise,
    Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue.
    • Lines 48–52.
  • Life moves out of a red flare of dreams
    Into a common light of common hours,
    Until old age bring the red flare again.
  • I would mould a world of fire and dew
    With no one bitter, grave, or over wise,
    And nothing marred or old to do you wrong.
  • Land of Heart's Desire,
    Where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood,
    But joy is wisdom, time an endless song.
    • Lines 373–375.

The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)

  • All things uncomely and broken, all things worn out and old,
    The cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart,
    The heavy steps of the ploughman, splashing the wintry mould,
    Are wronging your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.
  • And God stands winding His lonely horn,
    And time and the world are ever in flight;
    And love is less kind than the grey twilight,
    And hope is less dear than the dew of the morn.
  • I will find out where she has gone,
    And kiss her lips and take her hands;
    And walk among long dappled grass,
    And pluck till time and times are done
    The silver apples of the moon,
    The golden apples of the sun.
  • Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with the golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and half-light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

In The Seven Woods (1904)

  • I have heard the pigeons of the Seven Woods
    Make their faint thunder, and the garden bees
    Hum in the lime-tree flowers; and put away
    The unavailing outcries and the old bitterness
    That empty the heart.
    I have forgot awhile
    Tara uprooted, and new commonness
    Upon the throne and crying about the streets
    And hanging its paper flowers from post to post,
    Because it is alone of all things happy.
    I am contented,for I know that Quiet
    Wanders laughing and eating her wild heart
    Among pigeons and bees, while that Great Archer,
    Who but awaits His house to shoot, still hands
    A cloudy quiver over Pairc-na-lee.
  • I thought of your beauty, and this arrow,
    Made out of a wild thought, is in my marrow.
    There's no man may look upon her, no man,
    As when newly grown to be a woman,
    Tall and noble but with face and bosom
    Delicate in colour as apple blossom.
    This beauty's kinder, yet for a reason
    I could weep that the old is out of season
    .
  • One that is ever kind said yesterday:
    'Your well-belovéd's hair has threads of grey,
    And little shadows come about her eyes;
    Time can but make it easier to be wise
    Though now it seems impossible, and so
    All that you need is patience.'

    Heart cries, 'No,
    I have not a crumb of comfort, not a grain.
    Time can but make her beauty over again:
    Because of that great nobleness of hers
    The fire that stirs about her, when she stirs,
    Burns but more clearly. O she had not these ways
    When all the wild summer was in her gaze.'

    O heart! O heart! if she'd but turn her head,
    You'd know the folly of being comforted.
  • Never give all the heart, for love
    Will hardly seem worth thinking of
    To passionate women if it seem
    Certain, and the never dream
    That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
    For everything that's lovely is
    but a brief, dreamy, kind of delight.

    O never give the heart outright,
    For they, for all smooth lips can say,
    Have given their hearts up to the play.
    And who could play it well enough
    If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
    He that made this knows all the cost,
    For he gave all his heart and lost.
  • I heard the old, old men say,
    'Everything alters,
    And one by one we drop away.'

    They had hands like claws, and their knees
    Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
    By the waters.
    I heard the old, old men say,
    'All that's beautiful drifts away
    Like the waters.'
  • O hurry where by water among the trees
    The delicate-stepping stag and his lady sigh,
    When they have but looked upon their images--
    Would none had ever loved but you and I!

    Or have you heard that sliding silver-shoed
    Pale silver-proud queen-woman of the sky,
    When the sun looked out of his golden hood?--
    O that none ever loved but you and I!

    O hurry to the ragged wood, for there
    I will drive all those lovers out and cry--
    O my share of the world, O yellow hair!
    No one has ever loved but you and I.

  • Sweetheart, do not love too long:
    I loved long and long,
    And grew to be out of fashion
    Like an old song.

    All through the years of our youth
    Neither could have known
    Their own thought from the other's
    We were so much at one.
    But O, in a minute she changed--
    O do not love too long,
    Or you will grow out of fashion
    Like an old song.

Adam's Curse

  • A line will take us hours maybe;
    Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
    Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
    Better go down upon your marrow-bones
    And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
    Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
    For to articulate sweet sounds together
    Is to work harder than all these, and yet
    Be thought an idler by the noisy set
    Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
    The martyrs call the world.
    • St. 1
  • It’s certain there is no fine thing
    Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.

    There have been lovers who thought love should be
    So much compounded of high courtesy
    That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
    Precedents out of beautiful old books;
    Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.
    • St. 3
  • I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
    That you were beautiful, and that I strove
    To love you in the old high way of love;

    That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
    As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
    • St. 5

The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910)

  • Why should I blame her that she filled my days
    With misery, or that she would of late
    Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
    Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
    Had they but courage equal to desire?
    What could have made her peaceful with a mind
    That nobleness made simple as a fire,
    With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
    That is not natural in an age like this,
    Being high and solitary and most stern?
    Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
    Was there another Troy for her to burn?
  • The fascination of what's difficult
    Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
    Spontaneous joy and natural content
    Out of my heart.
    There's something ails our colt
    That must, as if it had not holy blood
    Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
    Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
    As though it dragged road-metal. My curse on plays
    That have to be set up in fifty ways,
    On the day's war with every knave and dolt,
    Theatre business, management of men.
    I swear before the dawn comes round again
    I'll find the stable and pull out the bolt.
  • Wine comes in at the mouth
    And love comes in at the eye;
    That's all we shall know for truth
    Before we grow old and die.
    I lift the glass to my mouth,
    I look at you, and I sigh.
  • Though leaves are many, the root is one;
    Through all the lying days of my youth
    I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
    Now I may wither into the truth.
  • I that have not your faith, how shall I know
    That in the blinding light beyond the grave
    We’ll find so good a thing as that we have lost?
    The hourly kindness, the day’s common speech,
    The habitual content of each with each
    When neither soul nor body has been crossed.
  • I swayed upon the gaudy stern
    The butt-end of a steering-oar,
    And saw wherever I could turn
    A crowd upon a shore.
    And though I would have hushed the crowd,
    There was no mother's son but said,
    'What is the figure in a shroud
    Upon a gaudy bed?'
    And after running at the brim
    Cried out upon that thing beneath
    --It had such dignity of a limb--
    By the sweet name of Death.
    Though I'd my finger on my lip,
    What could I but take up the song?
    And running crowd and gaudy ship
    Cried out the whole night long,
    Crying amid the glittering sea,
    Naming it with the ecstatic breath,
    Because it had such dignity,
    By the sweet name of Death.
  • Some may have blamed you that you took away
    The verses that could move them on the day

    When, the ears being deafened, the sight of the eyes blind
    With lightning, you went from me, and I could find
    Nothing to make a song about
    but kings,
    Helmets, and swords, and half-forgotten things
    That were like memories of you--but now
    We'll out, for the world lives as long ago;
    And while we're in our laughing, weeping fit,
    Hurl helmets, crowns, and swords into the pit.
    But, dear, cling close to me; since you were gone,
    My barren thoughts have chilled me to the bone.
  • Ah, that Time could touch a form
    That could show what Homer's age
    Bred to be a hero's wage.
    'Were not all her life but a storm,
    Would not painters pain a form
    Of such noble lines,'
    I said,
    'Such a delicate high head,
    All that sternness amid charm,
    All that sweetness amid strength?

    Ah, but peace that comes at length,
    Came when Time had touched her form.
  • O heart, be at peace, because
    Nor knave nor dolt can break
    What's not for their applause

    Being for a woman's sake.
    Enough if the work has seemed,
    So did she your strength renew,
    A dream that a lion had dreamed
    Till the wilderness cried aloud,
    A secret between you two,
    Between the proud and the proud.

    What, still you would have their praise!
    But here's a haughtier text,
    The labyrinth of her days
    That her own strangeness perplexed;
    And how what her dreaming gave
    Earned slander, ingratitude,
    From self-same dolt and knave;
    Aye, and worse wrong than these.
    Yet she, singing upon her road,
    Half lion, half child, is at peace.

  • Have you made greatness your companion,
    Although it be for children that you sigh:
    These are the clouds about the fallen sun,
    The majesty that shuts his burning eye.
  • 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.

Responsibilities (1914)

  • While I, that reed-throated whisperer
    Who comes at need, although not now as once
    A clear articulation in the air,
    But inwardly, surmise companions
    Beyond the fling of the dull ass’s hoof
    Ben Jonson’s phrase—and find when June is come
    At Kyle-na-no under that ancient roof
    A sterner conscience and a friendlier home,
    I can forgive even that wrong of wrongs,
    Those undreamt accidents that have made me
    —Seeing that Fame has perished that long while,
    Being but a part of ancient ceremony—
    Notorious, till all my priceless things
    Are but a post the passing dogs defile.
  • Was it for this the wild geese spread
    The grey wing upon every tide;
    For this that all that blood was shed,
    For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
    And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
    All that delirium of the brave?
    Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
    It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
  • Now all the truth is out,
    Be secret and take defeat
    From any brazen throat,
    For how can you compete,
    Being honour bred, with one
    Who, were it proved he lies,
    Were neither shamed in his own
    Nor in his neighbours’ eyes?
    Bred to a harder thing
    Than Triumph, turn away
    And like a laughing string
    Whereon mad fingers play
    Amid a place of stone,
    Be secret and exult,
    Because of all things known
    That is most difficult.
  • Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
    In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
    Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
    With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
    And all their helms of Silver hovering side by side,
    And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
    Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
    The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.
  • I made my song a coat
    Covered with embroideries
    Out of old mythologies
    From heel to throat;
    But the fools caught it,
    Wore it in the world’s eyes
    As though they’d wrought it.
    Song, let them take it,
    For there’s more enterprise
    In walking naked.

The Wild Swans at Coole (1919)

  • I would be ignorant as the dawn
    That merely stood, rocking the glittering coach
    Above the cloudy shoulders of the horses;
    I would be— for no knowledge is worth a straw—
    Ignorant and wanton as the dawn.
  • The trees are in their autumn beauty,
    The woodland paths are dry,
    Under the October twilight the water
    Mirrors a still sky.
  • Unwearied still, lover by lover,
    They paddle in the cold
    Companionable streams or climb the air;
    Their hearts have not grown old.
    • The Wild Swans At Coole, st. 4
  • Some burn damp faggots, others may consume
    The entire combustible world in one small room
    As though dried straw, and if we turn about
    The bare chimney is gone black out
    Because the work had finished in that flare.
    Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
    As ’twere all life’s epitome.
    What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?
  • I had thought, seeing how bitter is that wind
    That shakes the shutter, to have brought to mind
    All those that manhood tried, or childhood loved
    Or boyish intellect approved,
    With some appropriate commentary on each;
    Until imagination brought
    A fitter welcome; but a thought
    Of that late death took all my heart for speech.
    • In Memory Of Major Robert Gregory, st. 12
  • I know that I shall meet my fate
    Somewhere among the clouds above;
    Those that I fight I do not hate,
    Those that I guard I do not love;
    My county is Kiltartan Cross,
    My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
    No likely end could bring them loss
    Or leave them happier than before.
    Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
    Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
    A lonely impulse of delight
    Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
    I balanced all, brought all to mind,
    The years to come seemed waste of breath,
    A waste of breath the years behind
    In balance with this life, this death.
  • I know what wages beauty gives,
    How hard a life her servant lives,
    Yet praise the winters gone:
    There is not a fool can call me friend,
    And I may dine at journey’s end
    With Landor and with Donne.
  • All shuffle there; all cough in ink;
    All wear the carpet with their shoes;
    All think what other people think;
    All know the man their neighbour knows.
    Lord, what would they say
    Did their Catullus walk that way?
  • When have I last looked on
    The round green eyes and the long wavering bodies
    Of the dark leopards of the moon?
    All the wild witches, those most noble ladies,
    For all their broom-sticks and their tears,
    Their angry tears, are gone.
  • I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.
  • Hands, do what you’re bid:
    Bring the balloon of the mind
    That bellies and drags in the wind
    Into its narrow shed.
  • We have lit upon the gentle, sensitive mind
    And lost the old nonchalance of the hand;
    Whether we have chosen chisel, pen or brush,
    We are but critics, or but half create,
    Timid, entangled, empty and abashed,
    Lacking the countenance of our friends.
  • Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
    Alone, important and wise,
    And lifts to the changing moon
    His changing eyes.

Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921)

  • Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
  • The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
    • The Second Coming, st. 2

Easter, 1916

  • I have met them at close of day
    Coming with vivid faces
    From counter or desk among grey
    Eighteenth-century houses.
    I have passed with a nod of the head
    Or polite meaningless words,
    Or have lingered awhile and said
    Polite meaningless words.
    • St. 1
  • All changed, changed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.
    • St. 1
  • This other man I had dreamed
    A drunken, vain-glorious lout.
    He had done most bitter wrong
    To some who are near my heart,
    Yet I number him in the song;
    He, too, has resigned his part
    In the casual comedy;
    He, too, has been changed in his turn,
    Transformed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.
    • St. 2
  • Hearts with one purpose alone
    Through summer and winter, seem
    Enchanted to a stone
    To trouble the living stream.
    • St. 3
  • Minute by minute they live:
    The stone's in the midst of all.
    • St. 3
  • Too long a sacrifice
    Can make a stone of the heart.
    • St. 4
  • O when may it suffice?
    That is heaven's part, our part
    To murmur name upon name.
    • St. 4
  • I write it out in a verse—
    MacDonagh and MacBride
    And Connolly and Pearse
    Now and in time to be,
    Wherever green is worn,
    Are changed, changed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.
    • St. 4

A Prayer For My Daughter

  • Imagining in excited reverie
    That the future years had come,
    Dancing to a frenzied drum,
    Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.
    • St. 2
  • May she be granted beauty and yet not
    Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
    Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
    Being made beautiful overmuch,
    Consider beauty a sufficient end,
    Lose natural kindness and maybe
    The heart-revealing intimacy
    That chooses right, and never find a friend.
    • St. 3
  • It’s certain that fine women eat
    A crazy salad with their meat
    Whereby the Horn of plenty is undone.
    • St. 4
  • In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
    Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
    By those that are not entirely beautiful;
    Yet many, that have played the fool
    For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise.
    And many a poor man that has roved,
    Loved and thought himself beloved,
    From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.
    • St. 5
  • May she become a flourishing hidden tree
    That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
    And have no business but dispensing round
    Their magnanimities of sound,
    Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
    Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
    • St. 6
  • To be choked with hate
    May well be of all evil chances chief.
    If there’s no hatred in a mind
    Assault and battery of the wind
    Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.
    • St. 7
  • An intellectual hatred is the worst,
    So let her think opinions are accursed.

    Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
    Out of the mouth of plenty’s horn,
    Because of her opinionated mind
    Barter that horn and every good
    By quiet natures understood
    For an old bellows full of angry wind?
    • St. 8
  • All hatred driven hence,
    The soul recovers radical innocence
    And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
    Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
    And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;

    She can, though every face should scowl
    And every windy quarter howl
    Or every bellows burst, be happy still.
    • St. 9

The Tower (1928)

  • Never had I more
    Excited, passionate, fantastical
    Imagination, nor an ear and eye
    That more expected the impossible.
  • Does the imagination dwell the most
    Upon a woman won or woman lost?
    • The Tower, II, st. 13
  • Much did I rage when young,
    Being by the world oppressed,
    But now with flattering tongue
    It speeds the parting guest.
  • Locke sank into a swoon;
    The Garden died;
    God took the spinning-jenny
    Out of his side.
  • Being so caught up,
    So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
    Did she put on his knowledge with his power
    Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
  • Labour is blossoming or dancing where
    The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
    Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
    Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
    O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
    Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
    O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
    How can we know the dancer from the dance?
  • The true faith discovered was
    When painted panel, statuary.
    Glass-mosaic, window-glass,
    Amended what was told awry
    By some peasant gospeller.

Sailing to Byzantium

  • That is no country for old men. The young
    In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
    —Those dying generations—at their song,
    The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
    Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
    Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
    Caught in that sensual music all neglect
    Monuments of unaging intellect.
    • St. 1
  • Consume my heart away; sick with desire
    And fastened to a dying animal
    It knows not what it is; and gather me
    Into the artifice of eternity.
    • St. 3
  • Once out of nature I shall never take
    My bodily form from any natural thing,
    But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
    Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
    To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
    Or set upon a golden bough to sing
    To lords and ladies of Byzantium
    Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
    • St. 4

Nineteen Hundred And Nineteen

  • Many ingenious lovely things are gone
    That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,

    protected from the circle of the moon
    That pitches common things about.
    • I, st. 1
  • O what fine thought we had because we thought
    That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.
    • I, st. 2
  • All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
    And a great army but a showy thing;
    What matter that no cannon had been turned
    Into a ploughshare?
    • I, st. 3
  • Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
    Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
    Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
    To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free.
    • I, st. 4
  • The night can sweat with terror as before
    We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
    And planned to bring the world under a rule,
    Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.
    • I, st. 4
  • But is there any comfort to be found?
    Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
    What more is there to say?
    • I, st. 5-6
  • O but we dreamed to mend
    Whatever mischief seemed
    To afflict mankind, but now
    That winds of winter blow
    Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed.
    • III, st. 3
  • Come let us mock at the great
    That had such burdens on the mind
    And toiled so hard and late
    To leave some monument behind,
    Nor thought of the levelling wind.
    • V, st. 1
  • Come let us mock at the wise;
    With all those calendars whereon
    They fixed old aching eyes,
    They never saw how seasons run,
    And now but gape at the sun.
    • V, st. 2
  • Come let us mock at the good
    That fancied goodness might be gay,
    And sick of solitude
    Might proclaim a holiday:
    Wind shrieked— and where are they?
    • V, st. 3
  • Mock mockers after that
    That would not lift a hand maybe
    To help good, wise or great
    To bar that foul storm out, for we
    Traffic in mockery.
    • V, st. 4

Two Songs From a Play

  • Odour of blood when Christ was slain
    Made all platonic tolerance vain
    And vain all Doric discipline.
    • II, st. 1
  • Everything that man esteems
    Endures a moment or a day.

    Love’s pleasure drives his love away,
    The painter’s brush consumes his dreams.
    • II, st. 2
  • Whatever flames upon the night
    Man’s own resinous heart has fed.
    • II, st. 2

The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933)

  • Whether they knew or not,
    Goldsmith and Burke, Swift and the Bishop of Cloyne
    All hated Whiggery; but what is Whiggery?
    A levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind
    That never looked out of the eye of a saint
    Or out of drunkard’s eye.
  • Only God, my dear,
    Could love you for yourself alone
    And not your yellow hair.
  • Swift has sailed into his rest;
    Savage indignation there
    Cannot lacerate his breast.
    Imitate him if you dare,
    World-besotted traveller; he
    Served human liberty.
  • The intellect of man is forced to choose
    Perfection of the life, or of the work,
    And if it take the second must refuse
    A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
  • The unpurged images of day recede;
    The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;
    Night resonance recedes, night walkers’ song
    After great cathedral gong;
    A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
    All that man is,
    All mere complexities,
    The fury and the mire of human veins.
  • At midnight on the Emperor’s pavement flit
    Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
    Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
    Where blood-begotten spirits come
    And all complexities of fury leave,
    Dying into a dance,
    An agony of trance,
    An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.
    • Byzantium, st. 4
  • Somewhere beyond the curtain
    Of distorting days
    Lives that lonely thing
    That shone before these eyes
    Targeted, trod like Spring.
  • ‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
    And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
    ‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
    Nor grave nor bed denied.'
  • But Love has pitched his mansion in
    The place of excrement;
    For nothing can be sole or whole
    That has not been rent.
    • Crazy Jane Talks With The Bishop, st. 3
  • What were all the world’s alarms
    To mighty Paris when he found
    Sleep upon a golden bed
    That first dawn in Helen’s arms?
  • Speech after long silence; it is right,
    All other lovers being estranged or dead,
    Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade,
    The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night,
    That we descant and yet again descant
    Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song:
    Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young
    We loved each other and were ignorant.
  • I gave what other women gave
    That stepped out of their clothes.
    But when this soul, its body off,
    Naked to naked goes,
    He it has found shall find therein
    What none other knows.

A Dialogue of Self and Soul

  • My Soul. Why should the imagination of a man
    Long past his prime remember things that are
    Emblematical of love and war?
    Think of ancestral night that can,
    If but imagination scorn the earth
    And intellect is wandering
    To this and that and t'other thing,
    Deliver from the crime of death and birth.
    • I, st. 3
  • My Soul. Such fullness in that quarter overflows
    And falls into the basin of the mind
    That man is stricken deaf and dumb and blind,
    For intellect no longer knows
    Is from the Ought, or knower from the Known
    That is to say, ascends to Heaven;
    Only the dead can be forgiven;
    But when I think of that my tongue's a stone.
    • I, st. 4
  • What matter if I live it all once more?
    Endure that toil of growing up;
    The ignominy of boyhood; the distress
    Of boyhood changing into man;
    The unfinished man and his pain
    Brought face to face with his own clumsiness;
    The finished man among his enemies?—
    How in the name of Heaven can he escape
    That defiling and disfigured shape
    The mirror of malicious eyes
    Casts upon his eyes until at last
    He thinks that shape must be his shape?
    • II, st. 1
  • I am content to live it all again
    And yet again,
    if it be life to pitch
    Into the frog-spawn of a blind man's ditch,
    A blind man battering blind men;
    Or into that most fecund ditch of all,
    The folly that man does
    Or must suffer, if he woos
    A proud woman not kindred of his soul.
    • II, st. 3
  • I am content to follow to its source
    Every event in action or in thought;
    Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
    When such as I cast out remorse
    So great a sweetness flows into the breast
    We must laugh and we must sing,
    We are blest by everything,
    Everything we look upon is blest.
    • II, st. 4

Vacillation

  • All women dote upon an idle man
    Although their children need a rich estate.
    No man has ever lived that had enough
    Of children’s gratitude or woman’s love.
    • III, st. 1
  • Test every work of intellect or faith,
    And everything that your own hands have wrought
    And call those works extravagance of breath
    That are not suited for such men as come
    Proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb.
    • III, st. 2
  • My fiftieth year had come and gone,
    I sat, a solitary man,
    In a crowded London shop,
    An open book and empty cup
    On the marble table-top.
    While on the shop and street I gazed
    My body of a sudden blazed;
    And twenty minutes more or less
    It seemed, so great my happiness,
    That I was blessed and could bless.
    • IV
  • Things said or done long years ago,
    Or things I did not do or say
    But thought that I might say or do,
    Weigh me down, and not a day
    But something is recalled,
    My conscience or my vanity appalled.
    • V, st. 2
  • Seek out reality, leave things that seem.
    • VII

A Full Moon in March (1935)

  • God guard me from those thoughts men think
    In the mind alone;
    He that sings a lasting song
    Thinks in a marrow-bone.
  • I pray—for word is out
    And prayer comes round again—
    That I may seem, though I die old,
    A foolish, passionate man.
    • A Prayer For Old Age, st. 3

Parnell's Funeral and Other Poems (1935). Supernatural Songs

  • Whence had they come,
    The hand and lash that beat down frigid Rome?
    What sacred drama through her body heaved
    When world-transforming Charlemagne was conceived?
    Supernatural Songs, VIII, Whence Had They Come?
  • Then he struggled with the mind;
    His proud heart he left behind.

    Now his wars on God begin;
    At stroke of midnight God shall win.

    Supernatural Songs, IX, The Four Ages of Man

Last Poems (1936-1939)

  • All perform their tragic play,
    There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
    That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia.
  • Heaven blazing into the head:
    Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.
    Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,
    And all the drop-scenes drop at once
    Upon a hundred thousand stages,
    It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.
    • Lapis Lazuli, st. 2
  • Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
    Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
    • Lapis Lazuli, st. 5
  • My temptation is quiet.
    Here at life’s end
    Neither loose imagination,
    Nor the mill of the mind
    Consuming its rag and bone,
    Can make the truth known.
  • Grant me an old man’s frenzy,
    Myself must I remake
    Till I am Timon and Lear
    Or that William Blake
    Who beat upon the wall
    Till Truth obeyed his call.
    • An Acre of Grass, st. 3
  • Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
    A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
    Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
    The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.
  • You think it horrible that lust and rage
    Should dance attention upon my old age;
    They were not such a plague when I was young;
    What else have I to spur me into song?
  • You that would judge me, do not judge alone
    This book or that, come to this hallowed place
    Where my friends' portraits hang and look thereon;
    Ireland's history in their lineaments trace;
    Think where man's glory most begins and ends
    And say my glory was I had such friends.
  • Down the mountain walls
    From where pan’s cavern is
    Intolerable music falls.
    Foul goat-head, brutal arm appear,
    Belly, shoulder, bum,
    Flash fishlike; nymphs and satyrs
    Copulate in the foam.
  • Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
    His mind moves upon silence.
  • Because there is safety in derision
    I talked about an apparition,
    I took no trouble to convince,
    Or seem plausible to a man of sense.
  • I have found nothing half so good
    As my long-planned half solitude,
    Where I can sit up half the night
    With some friend that has the wit
    Not to allow his looks to tell
    When I am unintelligible.
    • The Apparitions, st. 2
  • Now that my ladder’s gone,
    I must lie down where all the ladders start
    In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
    • The Circus Animals' Desertion, III
  • Irish poets, earn your trade,
    Sing whatever is well made,
    Scorn the sort now growing up
    All out of shape from toe to top,
    Their unremembering hearts and heads
    Base-born products of base beds.
  • Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
    In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
    • Under Ben Bulben, VI
  • No marble, no conventional phrase;
    On limestone quarried near the spot
    By his command these words are cut:
    Cast a cold eye
    On life, on death.
    Horseman, pass by!

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

'WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS (1865-), Irish author, son of J. B. Yeats (b. 1839), a distinguished Irish artist and member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, was born at Sandymount, Dublin, on the 13th of June 1865. At nine years old he went to live with his parents in London, and was sent to the Godolphin School, Hammersmith. At fifteen he went to the Erasmus Smith School in Dublin. Later he studied painting for a short time at the Royal Dublin Society, but soon turned to literature, contributing poems and articles to the Dublin University Review and other Irish periodicals. In 1888 he was encouraged by Oscar Wilde to try his fortune in London, where he published in 1889 his first volume of verse, The Wanderings of Oisin; its original and romantic touch impressed discerning critics, and started a new interest in the "Celtic" movement. The same year and the next he contributed to Mr Walter Scott's "Camelot Series," edited by Ernest Rhys, Fairy and Folk Tales, a collection of Irish folklore, and Tales from Carleton, with original introductions. In 1891 he wrote anonymously two Irish stories, John Sherman and Dhoya, for Mr Fisher Unwin's "Pseudonym Library." In 1892 he published another volume of verse, including The Countess Kathleen (a romantic drama), which gave the book its title, and in 1893 The Celtic Twilight, a volume of essays and sketches in prose. He now submitted his earlier poetical work to careful revision, and it was in the revised versions of The Wanderings of Usheen and The Countess Kathleen, and the lyrics given in his collected Poems of 1895 that his authentic poetical note found adequate expression and was recognized as marking the rise of a new Irish school. In the meantime he had followed The Countess Kathleen with another poetical drama, The Land of Heart's Desire, acted at the Avenue Theatre for six weeks in the spring of 1894, published in May of that year. He contributed to various periodicals, notably to the National Observer and the Bookman, and also to the Book of the Rhymers Club - the English Parnasse Contemporain of the early 'nineties. With Edwin J. Ellis he edited the Works of William Blake (1893), and also edited A Book of Irish Verse (1895). In 1897 appeared The Secret Rose, a collection of Irish legends and tales in prose, with poetry interspersed, containing the stories of Hanrahan the Red. The same year he printed privately The Tables of the Law and the Adoration of the Magi, afterwards published in a volume of Mr Elkin Mathews's "Vigo Street Cabinet" in 1904. In 1889 he published The Wind among the Reeds, containing some of his best lyrics, and in 1900 another poetical drama, The Shadowy Waters. He now became specially interested in the establishment of an Irish literary theatre; and he founded and conducted an occasional periodical (appearing fitfully at irregular intervals), called first Beltain and later Samhain, to expound its aims and preach his own views, the first number appearing in May 1899. In the autumn of 1901 Mr F. R. Benson's company produced in London the play Diarmuid and Grania, written in collaboration by him and George Moore. In 1902 he published his own first original play in prose, Cathleen ni Houlihan, which was printed in Samhain in October that year. In 1903 he collected and published a volume of literary and critical essays, to which he gave the title, Ideas of Good and Evil. In the same and the following years he published a collected edition of his Plays for an Irish Theatre, comprising Where There is Nothing, The HourGlass, Cathleen ni Houlihan, The Pot of Broth, The King's Threshold and On Baile's Strand. In 1904 he also edited two volumes of Irish Representative Tales. Whether or not "Celtic" is the right word for it, Mr Yeats's art was quickly identified by enthusiasts with the literary side of the new Irish national movement. His inspiration may be traced in some measure to the Pre-Raphaelites and also to Blake, Shelley and Maeterlinck; but he found in his native Irish legend and life matter apt for his romantic and often elfin music, with its artful simplicities and unhackneyed cadences, and its elusive, inconclusive charm.

See the section on W. B. Yeats in Poets of the Younger Generation by William Archer (1902), and for bibliography up to June 1903, English Illustrated Magazine, vol. xxix. (N.S.) p. 288. A library edition of his collected works in prose and verse was issued by Mr Bullen from the Shakespeare Head Works, Stratford-on-Avon, in 8 vols., 1908.


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William Butler Yeats was both poet and playwright, a towering figure in 20th century literature in English, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, a master of traditional verse forms and at the same time an idol of the modernist poets who followed him. Yeats’ Childhood:

William Butler Yeats was born into a wealthy, artistic Anglo-Irish family in Dublin in 1865. His father, John Butler Yeats, was educated as an attorney, but abandoned the law to become a well-known portrait painter. It was his father’s career as an artist that took the family to London for four years during Yeats’ boyhood. His mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen, was from Sligo, where Yeats spent summers in childhood and later made his home. It was she who introduced William to the Irish folktales which permeated his early poetry. When the family returned to Ireland, Yeats attended high school and later art school in Dublin. Yeats as a Young Poet:

Yeats was always interested in mystical theories and images, the supernatural, the esoteric and the occult. As a young man, he studied the works of William Blake and Emmanuel Swedenborg, and was a member of the Theosophical Society and Golden Dawn. But his early poetry was modeled on Shelley and Spenser (e.g., his first published poem, “The Isle of Statues,” in The Dublin University Review) and drew on Irish folklore and mythology (as in his first full-length collection, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, 1889). After his family returned to London in 1887, Yeats founded the Rhymer’s Club with Ernest Rhys. Yeats and Maud Gonne:

In 1889 Yeats met Irish nationalist and actress Maud Gonne, the great love of his life. She was committed to the political struggle for Irish independence; he was devoted to the revival of Irish heritage and cultural identity — but through her influence he did become involved in politics and joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He proposed to Maud several times, but she never consented and ended up marrying Major John MacBride, a Republican activist who was executed for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. Yeats wrote many poems and several plays for Gonne — she earned great acclaim in his Cathleen ni Houlihan. The Irish Literary Revival and the Abbey Theatre:

With Lady Gregory and others, Yeats was a founder of the Irish Literary Theatre, which sought to revive Celtic dramatic literature. This project lasted only a couple of years, but Yeats was soon joined by J.M. Synge in the Irish National Theatre, which moved into its permanent home at the Abbey Theatre in 1904. Yeats served as its director for some time and to this day, it plays an active role in launching the careers of new Irish writers and playwrights. Yeats and Pound:

In 1913, Yeats became acquainted with Ezra Pound, an American poet 20 years his junior who had come to London to meet him, because he considered Yeats the only contemporary poet worth studying. Pound served as his secretary for several years, causing a ruckus when he sent several of Yeats’ poems to be published in Poetry magazine with his own edited changes and without Yeats’ approval. Pound also introduced Yeats to the Japanese Noh drama, on which he modeled several plays. Yeats’ Mysticism & Marriage:

At 51, determined to marry and have children, Yeats finally gave up on Maud Gonne and proposed to Georgie Hyde Lees, a woman half his age whom he knew from his esoteric explorations. In spite of the age difference and his long unrequited love for another, it turned out to be a successful marriage and they had two children. For many years, Yeats and his wife collaborated in a process of automatic writing, in which she contacted various spirit guides and with their help Yeats constructed the philosophical theory of history contained in A Vision, published in 1925. Yeats’ Later Life:

Immediately after the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, Yeats was appointed to its first Senate, where he served for two terms. In 1923 Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. It is generally agreed that he is one of a very few Nobel laureates who produced his best work after receiving the Prize. In the last years of his life, Yeats’ poems became more personal and his politics more conservative. He founded the Irish Academy of Letters in 1932 and continued to write quite prolifically. Yeats died in France in 1939; after World War II his body was moved to Drumcliffe, County Sligo.








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