Yeats' Contribution to the Literary Revival in Ireland

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Universität Leipzig,
Anglistiks.

Module: Literaturgeschichte / Geschichte der Britischen Inseln I (SS).

Vorlesung: English Literature – A Historical Survey.

Essay Title:

“Yeats’ Contribution to the Literary Revival in Ireland, Despite a Conflict of Interest with the Gaelic League.”

William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1865, he was the son of John Butler Yeats who was a law student at the time and to become a distinguished painter shortly after the birth of his children. JB Yeats played a major role in the shaping of his son’s values and views concerning his Irish nationalist ideologies rather than the views of his maternal grandfather, whose loyalties lay with the British crown. Yeats grew up as a member of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy but as he grew older and began to write, his poetry portrayed sympathies towards the nationalists and home-rulers of said era. Yeats’ upbringing impacted greatly on his poetry in the latter years, with such an artistic family surrounding him, he had the benefit of being emerged in the London art scene from an early age and there he also became a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn which was a mythical order. His membership with this organisation as well as his mother’s early introduction of folktales into her children’s lives led to his interest in native Irish literature and tradition, which would become his main influences for his own writings.

The literary movement in Ireland spanned from the middle of the 19th Century to early 20th, its main aim was to revive interest in Irish heritage and Gaelic culture through literature and Yeats was a key figure in encouraging a new acknowledgement toward this. In 1888, alongside Douglas Hyde, Yeats published Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. The book is an anthology of Irish folklore, which features relatable magical events for the peasantry to interpret as they wish and incorporate into real life teachings for their families and younger generations. This is a perfect example of the way in which Yeats influenced reading for the not so literary proletariat of Ireland in the 19th Century, thus adding to the revival. In 1893 Yeats went on to publish The Celtic Twilight which features a poem of similar name as the closing entry, Into the Twilight which also became the reasoning behind the colloquial Celtic Twilight reference to the literary revival. The poem sums up the beauty of Ireland as a nation and the natural landscape, [1]“Thy mother Eire is always young” emphasising that even with hardship and violence within the land there is still room for reconciliation and peaceful living. With regard to the Irish language, the poem can also be interpreted in sense that it recognises a discredit towards the language through stating [2]“Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue” and at the same time rekindling the importance of the language through this line and subconsciously reminding the reader of their heritage.

Conradh na Gaeilge, founded in Dublin in 1893 by Yeats’ acquaintance Douglas Hyde was an institution which promoted the Irish language, not to be confused with the Literary Revival which Yeats was so greatly involved in. The Gaelic League focused mainly on the Irish language and trying to rejuvenate it back into Irish society, the first newspaper to be introduced by Conradh na Gaeilge was titled An Claidheamh Solais (The Sword of Light). The papers most frequent and well known writer was a man by the name of Pádraig Pearse, an Irish nationalist and poet in his own right who was one of the leading members of The Easter Rising 1916 and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Pearse wrote of Yeats in the paper on an occasion and it’s interesting to note as the two movements (Literary and Gaelic) did not always coincide. [3]“Against Mr Yeats personally, we have nothing to object. He is a mere English poet of...
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