William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet who is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Often referred to as Ireland’s ‘national poet’ Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923.
William Butler Yeats was born at Sandymount Avenue, Dublin, Ireland on June 13th 1865. The Yeats Family moved to Sligo to live with his mother’s family shortly after William was born. When he was aged two the family moved to England to facilitate their father’s career in art. However Yeats continued to spend his summers in Sligo.
Yeats attended school in England until the family returned to Dublin in 1880. In 1884 he entered the Metropolitan School of Art and his first poems were published in the Dublin University Review in 1885.
Yeats became one of the most important people of the Irish Literary Revival. He founded The Abbey Theatre in 1904 with Lady Gregory, Galway playwright Edward Martyn, Mayo author George Moore and others. Two of the first plays ever staged at the Abbey, ‘On Baile’s Strand’ and ‘Cathleen Ní Houlihan’, were both written by Yeats.
Though he was involved in the Nationalist movement Yeats did not involve himself in events surrounding the Easter Rising of 1916. He was appointed to the Seanad (Senate) in 1922 and served for two terms where he frequently spoke out against hatred, discrimination and bigotry. In a speech in the Seanad on June 11th 1925 he stated, ‘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’. He also served as Chair of a coinage committee which was established to select designs for the currency of the Irish Free State.
Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.” He continued to be a prolific writer throughout his lifetime and in 1936 was appointed editor of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892–1935. Yeats died in Menton, France in 1939 and was buried at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. In fulfilment of his wishes his body was moved to Drumcliffe Churchyard in Sligo in 1948 where his epitaph which comes from his poem, “Under Ben Bulben”, reads:
Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!
William Butler Yeats died at the age of 73 in the year 1939 On This Day.
W.B. Yeats by National Library of Ireland on The Commons on 1923-01-01 00:00:00
W.B. Yeats by Erin Costa on 2011-09-22 10:30:25