A Prayer for My Daughter – William Butler Yeats
W. B. Yeats
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.
He was born in Dublin, in 1865, the firstborn of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Yeats. His father was a lawyer and a well-known portrait painter. Yeats was educated in London and in Dublin, but he spent his summers in the west of Ireland in the family's summer house at Connaught. 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' first poems were published in the Dublin University Review.
The young Yeats was very much part of the fin de siècle in London; at the same time he was active in societies that attempted an Irish literary revival. His first volume of verse appeared in 1887, but in his earlier period his dramatic production outweighed his poetry both in bulk and in import. In 1896, he met Lady Gregory who encouraged his nationalist views and convinced him to continue focusing on writing drama. Together they founded the Irish Theatre, which was to become the Abbey Theatre, and served as its chief playwright until the movement was joined by John Synge. His plays usually treat Irish legends; they also reflect his fascination with mysticism and spiritualism. The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart's Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King's Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907) are among the best known.
After 1910, Yeats' dramatic art took a sharp turn toward a highly poetical, static, and esoteric style. His later plays were written for small audiences; they experiment with masks, dance, and music, and were profoundly influenced by the Japanese Noh plays. Although a convinced patriot, Yeats deplored the hatred and the bigotry of the Nationalist movement, and his poetry is full of moving protests against it.
He was highly interested in mysticism and spiritualism, and attended his first séance in 1886. Later, Yeats became heavily involved with hermeticist and theosophical beliefs, and in 1900 he became head of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which he joined in 1890. That same year, maintaining his interest in the literary arts, Yeats cofounded the Rhymer's Club with John Rhys.
All his life, Yeats maintained friendships with a number of poets and literary figures; for a time in 1913, Ezra Pound served as Yeats' secretary. Yeats was also known and respected by Oscar Wilde, John Millington Synge, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, among others.
Yeats was appointed to the Irish Senate in 1922, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. Yeats is one of the few writers whose greatest works were written after the award of the Nobel Prize. Whereas he received the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on his lyric achievement. His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), made him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. His recurrent themes are the contrast of art and life, masks, cyclical theories of life (the symbol of the winding stairs), and the ideal of beauty and ceremony contrasting with the hubbub of modern life.
After suffering from a variety of illnesses for a number of years, Yeats died in France in January, 1939, eight months before the German invasion of Poland. Soon afterward, Anglo-American poet W. H. Auden composed the poem In Memory of W. B. Yeats. The well known opening lines of the final section of this poem read simply: "Earth receive an honoured guest: / William Yeats is laid to rest.". Yeats was...
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