Friendship Poems

William Butler Yeats Biography

420px-William_Butler_Yeat_by_George_Charles_BeresfordWilliam Butler Yeats was born on June 13, 1865, in Sandymount, County Dublin, Ireland to John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen, who moved to Sligo shortly after Williams’s birth. Yeats referred to the Sligo area as his childhood and spiritual home. The Butler Yeats family was very artistic; in fact, Yeats’ brother, Jack, became a highly regarded painter, while his sisters, Elizabeth and Susan, became involved in the Arts and Crafts movement.

All of the Yeats children were initially educated at home, where their mother entertained them with stories and Irish folktales. Their father provided them with an erratic education in geography and chemistry. In 1877, William entered the Godolphin primary school, which he attended for four years, though he did not distinguish himself academically. Latin was perhaps his best subject while spelling was likely his worst. After the family returned to Dublin in 1881, William resumed his education at Dublin’s Erasmus Smith High School. As his father’s studio was located nearby, William spent a great deal of time there; consequently, he met many of the city’s artists and writers. William began writing poetry during this period.

In 1885, Yeats first poems and an essay were published in the Dublin University Review. From 1884 to 1886, Yeats attended the Metropolitan School of Art on Thomas Street. Yeats first known work was written when he was seventeen and includes a poem that was influenced by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a draft of a play and love-poems and narrative lyrics on medieval German knights. His earliest work drew heavily on Shelley, Edmund Spenser and on the diction and coloring of pre-Raphaelite verse, though it soon turned to Irish myth and folklore, in addition to the writings of William Blake.

After his family had returned to London in 1890, Yeats co-founded the Rhymers’ Club, a group of London based poets who met on a regular basis at the Fleet Street tavern to recite their poems, with Ernest Rhys. This collective published two anthologies, one in 1892 and another in 1894.

Yeats had an intense interest in mysticism, spiritualism, occultism and astrology, which he fueled by reading extensively on these subjects throughout his life. This theme showed in his writing. His first significant poem was The Isle of Statues, a fantasy work that used Edmund Spenser for its model. The poem was only published in the Dublin University Review.

Yeats first solo publication, published in 1886, was the pamphlet Mosada: A Dramatic Poem. One hundred copies of this pamphlet were made and the copies were paid for by Yeats father. The collection The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, Yeats’ next work, was published in 1889. The poem The Wanderings of Oisin was based in the lyrics of the Fenian Cycle of Irish Mythology; it also displays influence of both Sir Samuel Ferguson and the Pre-Raphaelite poets. This was the only long poem Yeats attempted; it took him two years to complete.

In 1889, Yeats met Maud Gonne, a 23-year-old heiress who was eighteen months younger than Yeats. Yeats developed an infatuation, which was borderline obsessed, with her beauty and outspoken manner; in fact, she had a significant and lasting effect on Yeats life and poetry. Yeats proposed to her three times; she rejected him all three times. Maud Gonne ended up marrying Major John MacBride although Yeats and Gonne’s friendship persisted; they finally consummated their relationship in Paris in 1908. He later married George Hyde-Lees, whom he met through occult circles

In December of 1923, Yeats was awarded the Noble Prize for literature. When he won the prize, he saw a significant increase in the sales of his books, mainly because his publishers Macmillan sought to capitalize on the publicity. This was the first time that he had money and was able to repay his and his father’s debts as well.

Yeats died on January 28, 1939 at the Hotel Ideal Sejour in Menton, France. Yeats had a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and was buried right afterwards. In September 1948, his body was moved to Drumcliffe, County Sligo. His epitaph was taken from the last lines of one of his final poems, Under Ben Bulden.”


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