Yeats Context

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W.B. Yeats

Familial background:
William Butler Yeats (June 13, 1865 - January 28, 1939), often referred to as W.B. Yeats, was an Irish poet, dramatist and mystic. He served as an Irish Senator in the 1920s. Born in Dublin, in 1865, the firstborn of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Yeats. In 1877, W.B. entered Godolphin school, which he attended for four years, after which he continued his education at Erasmus Smith High School, in Dublin. For a time (from 1884 - 1886), he attended the Metropolitan School of Art. In 1885, Yeats's first poems were published in the Dublin University Review. William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin into an Irish Protestant family. His father, John Butler Yeats, a clergyman's son, was a lawyer turned to an Irish Pre-Raphaelite painter. Yeats's mother, Susan Pollexfen, came from a wealthy family - the Pollexfens had a prosperous milling and shipping business. His early years Yeats spent in London and Sligo, a beautiful county on the west coast of Ireland, where his mother had grown and which he later depicted in his poems. In 1881 the family returned to Dublin. While studying at the Metropolitan School of Art, Yeats met there the poet, dramatist, and painter George Russell (1867-1935). He was interested in mysticism, and his search inspired also Yeats, who at that time associated Protestantism with materialism and like Blake, rejected the Newtonian mechanistic worldview. This turn was a surprise to his father, who had tried to raise his son without encouraging him to ponder with such questions, but had given him Blake's poetry to read. Reincarnation, communication with the dead, mediums, supernatural systems and Oriental mysticism fascinated Yeats through his life.

Education:
In 1867, the family moved to England to aid their father, John, to further his career as an artist. At first the Yeats children were educated at home. Their mother entertained them with stories and Irish folktales. John provided an erratic education in geography and chemistry, and took William on natural history explorations of the nearby Slough countryside. On 26 January 1877, the young poet entered the Godolphin primary school, which he attended for four years. He did not distinguish himself academically, and an early school report describes his performance as "only fair. Perhaps better in Latin than in any other subject. Very poor in spelling." Though he had difficulty with mathematics and languages (possibly because Yeats was tone deaf) he was fascinated by biology and zoology. For financial reasons, the family returned to Dublin toward the end of 1880, living at first in the city centre and later in the suburb of Howth. In October 1881, Yeats resumed his education at Dublin's Erasmus Smith High School.

Political persuasions/ interests:
Yeats had a life-long interest in mysticism, spiritualism, occultism and astrology. He read extensively on the subjects throughout his life, became a member of the paranormal research organization "The Ghost Club" (in 1911) and was especially influenced by the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. As early as 1892, he wrote: "If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written a single word of my Blake book, nor would The Countess Kathleen ever have come to exist. The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write. His mystical interests—also inspired by a study of Hinduism, under the Theosophist Mohini Chatterjee, and the occult—formed much of the basis of his late poetry. However, some critics have dismissed these influences as lacking in intellectual credibility.

Professional and friendship networks:
All his life, Yeats maintained friendships with a number of poets and literary figures; for a time in 1913, Ezra Pound served as Yeats's secretary. Yeats was also known and respected by Oscar Wilde, John Millington Synge, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, among others.

Maud Gonne:
In 1889, Yeats met Maud Gonne, a young...
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