William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
The leader of the so-called Celtic Ireland and one of the founder of the Irish Movement, he was also the most prominent poet of the Irish Renaissance and a writer of rare lyric power who had considerable influence on contemporary poetry. In 1923 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature "for his always inspired poetry, which, in a highly artistic form, gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation".
William Butler Yeats was born in a suburb of Dublin in 1865. His father was a painter , a keen intellectual and secure , who had great influence on his son; his mother, who came from a distinguished family of Sligo, in the west of Ireland, was a quiet, sensitive, religious woman. When he was nine, the poet's family moved to London , though he continued to spend his school holidays with his grandparents in Sligo, a country whose scenery, folklore and legends later appeared in many of his works. In London his father made friends with the remaining members of the Pre-Raphaelites, such as William Morris and Burnes Jones; the young Yeats also studied painting, an art which he loved passionately throughout his life. When he left school he decided to become an artist , but soon discovered that his real first poems in the "Dublin university Review"., in 1885. He was also extremely interested in spiritualism, occultism, magic and theosophy, and went on studying them until his death. In 1889 his first book, The Wanderings of Oisin , was published; he was now a professional writer and was soon involved in the literary death.
One of his friend , the poet and critic Arthur Symons, introduced him to the French Symbolist movement and to the aesthetic ideas of Mallarmé, Baudelaire and Verlaine. He also edited the Poetic Works of William Blake (1893); to produce this edition he had studied Blake's thought as well as Neoplatonism and he remained deeply influenced by Blake's mysticism. In 1889, when he was 24, he met a beautiful actress and ardent Irish nationalist, Maud Gonne. He fell in love with her and spent the next twenty years wooing her , writing poetry in her praise, and trying to become the active bationalist she expected him to be. But he could not betray his non-active idealistic nature. Maud married a Major MacBride , from whom she separated after two years. Thus marriage was a terrible blow to Yeats's romantic dreams. His art changed. His style became hard and bitter, devoid of the decorative images of his early poems; he turned to drama and his main topics became politics, metaphysics and art.
In 1899 together with George Moore, Edward Marty and Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats founded the Irish Dramatic Movement , which eventually settled in the famous Abbey Theater and staged plays written by Yeats himself, Lady Gregory , John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey. Little by little, owing to many sad events - the death of Synge , the loosening of his ties with the Abbey Theatre, and some unhappy love affairs - he grew more and more frustrated and depressed. His disillusionment with Irish politics increased. Only with the Easter Rising of 1916 was his faith in the heroic character of his country restored. In 1917 he married the young and intelligent Georgie Hyde-Lees. During their honeymoon , she made experiments in automatic writing , which was to exercise a profound effect on Yeats's life and work.
Helped by his wife , who had a spiritualist medium, he also resumed his occultism and neoplatonic philosophy. In 1922 Yeats was appointed a senator or the Irish Free State and in 1923, he received the Nobel Prize . In his years, although suffer in from heart and lung disease , he wrote some of his greatest poems. He died in 1939.