William Butler Yeats

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Yeats, William Butler


Born June 13, 1865, in San-dymount near Dublin; died Jan. 28, 1939, in Roquebrune, France; in 1948 his remains were brought back to Sligo, Ireland; Irish poet and playwright.

Yeats grew up among the aristocracy and studied at the universities of Dublin and Oxford. During the 1890’s he was the moving force behind the Irish Renaissance movement. From 1922 to 1928 he was a member of the Irish senate and from 1904 to 1938 he was one of the directors of the Abbey Theater and helped create the Irish Literary Theater. His interest in mythology and folklore influenced some of his works, such as The Wanderings of Oisin (1889) and The Celtic Twilight (1893). Irish national myth and the notion of eternal beauty in the Rose cycle (1893) and the collection The Wind Among the Reeds (1889) were the sources of the poetic symbols in Yeats’ early poetry. The ideas behind the national liberation movement served as the inspirational source of his patriotic play Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902). His collection of verse entitled Responsibilities (1916) marked a turn toward confessional and civic poetry. History and its real heroes became a living part of Yeats’ works (his poems “September 1913,” “Sixteen Dead Men,” and “The Rose”), and the Dublin uprising of 1916 and the execution of the patriots provided the theme of his poem “Easter 1916.” In his search for a new form for his poetic drama, Yeats turned to the Japanese No theater in the early 20th century and wrote plays in which masks were to be worn (At the Hawk’s Well, 1916; and The Only Jealousy of Emer, 1919). Man’s courage and readiness for self-sacrifice was contrasted with the power of magic in these plays.

Yeats’ spiritual crisis, precipitated by his disenchantment with the results of the struggle for national liberation that had strengthened bourgeois rule in Ireland, was reflected in his collections The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1933). In the 1930’s his symbolism acquired ironic and satirical overtones, and his Last Poems and Plays (1940) and The Death of Cuchulain (1939) combine a pessimistic world view with satire directed against modern society. Yeats translated Jonathan Swift’s epitaph and wrote a play about him entitled The Words Upon the Window Pane (1931). In the poem “The Municipal Gallery Revisited” (1939), Yeats summed up all his work, the chief principle of which he felt was his link with his native land. He won the Nobel Prize in 1923.


Autobiographies. London, 1956.
The Variorum Edition of the Poems. New York, 1957.
Essays and Introductions. London, 1961.
The Variorum Edition of the Plays. New York, 1966.
Uncollected Prose, vol. 1. London, 1970.
In Russian translation:
In Antologiia novoi angliiskoi poezii. Introduction by M. Gutner. Leningrad, 1937.


Eremina, I. K. “Ranniaia dramaturgiia U. B. Eitsa.” Uch. zap. Moskov-skogo obi. ped. in-ta, 1967, vol. 175, issue 10.
Home, J. W. B. Yeats: 1865-1939, 2nd ed. London, 1962.
Ellmann, R. The Identity of Yeats, 2nd ed. New York, 1964.
Zwerdling, A. Yeats and the Heroic Ideal. New York, 1965. (Bibliography, pp. 183-90.)
Nathan, L. E. The Tragic Drama of William Butler Yeats. New York-London, 1965.
Ure, P. Towards a Mythology. New York [1968].
Jeffares, A. N. The Circus Animals: Essays on W. B. Yeats. [London, 1970.]
Cross, K. G., and R. T. Dunlop. A Bibliography of Yeats Criticism: 1887-1965. [London, 1971.]


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