William Butler Yeat

Topics: William Butler Yeats, Republic of Ireland, Irish mythology Pages: 10 (3617 words) Published: May 5, 2014
William Butler Yeats is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. He belonged to the Protestant, Anglo-Irish minority that had controlled the economic, political, social, and cultural life of Ireland since at least the end of the seventeenth century. Most members of this minority considered themselves English people who merely happened to have been born in Ireland, but Yeats was staunch in affirming his Irish nationality. Although he lived in London for fourteen years of his childhood (and kept a permanent home there during the first half of his adult life), Yeats maintained his cultural roots, featuring Irish legends and heroes in many of his poems and plays. He was equally firm in adhering to his self-image as an artist. This conviction led many to accuse him of elitism, but it also unquestionably contributed to his greatness. As fellow poet W. H. Auden noted in a 1948 Kenyon Review essay entitled "Yeats as an Example," Yeats accepted the modern necessity of having to make a lonely and deliberate "choice of the principles and presuppositions in terms of which [made] sense of his experience." Auden assigned Yeats the high praise of having written "some of the most beautiful poetry" of modern times. William Butler Yeats is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. He belonged to the Protestant, Anglo-Irish minority that had controlled the economic, political, social, and cultural life of Ireland since at least the end of the seventeenth century. Most members of this minority considered themselves English people who merely happened to have been born in Ireland, but Yeats was staunch in affirming his Irish nationality. Although he lived in London for fourteen years of his childhood (and kept a permanent home there during the first half of his adult life), Yeats maintained his cultural roots, featuring Irish legends and heroes in many of his poems and plays. He was equally firm in adhering to his self-image as an artist. This conviction led many to accuse him of elitism, but it also unquestionably contributed to his greatness. As fellow poet W. H. Auden noted in a 1948 Kenyon Review essay entitled "Yeats as an Example," Yeats accepted the modern necessity of having to make a lonely and deliberate "choice of the principles and presuppositions in terms of which [made] sense of his experience." Auden assigned Yeats the high praise of having written "some of the most beautiful poetry" of modern times.

Eighteen eighty-five was an important year in Yeats's early adult life, marking the first publication, in the Dublin University Review, of his poetry and the beginning of his important interest in occultism. It was also the year that he met John O'Leary, a famous patriot who had returned to Ireland after totaling twenty years of imprisonment and exile for revolutionary nationalistic activities. O'Leary had a keen enthusiasm for Irish books, music, and ballads, and he encouraged young writers to adopt Irish subjects. Yeats, who had preferred more romantic settings and themes, soon took O'Leary's advice, producing many poems based on Irish legends, Irish folklore, and Irish ballads and songs. As he explained in a note included in the 1908 volume Collected Works in Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats: "When I first wrote I went here and there for my subjects as my reading led me, and preferred to all other countries Arcadia and the India of romance, but presently I convinced myself ... that I should never go for the scenery of a poem to any country but my own, and I think that I shall hold to that conviction to the end."

As Yeats began concentrating his poetry on Irish subjects, he was compelled to accompany his family in moving to London at the end of 1886. There he continued to devote himself to Irish subjects, writing poems, plays, novels, and short stories—all with Irish characters and scenes. In addition, he produced book reviews, usually on Irish...
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