Yeats, William Butler

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Irish poet, dramatist, and prose writer, one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

Yeats's father, John Butler Yeats, was a barrister who eventually became a portrait painter. His mother, formerly Susan Pollexfen, was the daughter of a prosperous merchant in Sligo, in western Ireland. Through both parents Yeats claimed kinship with various Anglo-Irish Protestant families who are mentioned in his work. Normally, Yeats would have been expected to identify with his Protestant tradition—which represented a powerful minority among Ireland's predominantly Roman Catholic population—but he did not. Indeed, he was separated from both historical traditions available to him in Ireland—from the Roman Catholics, because he could not share their faith, and from the Protestants, because he felt repelled by their concern for material success. Yeats's best hope, he felt, was to cultivate a tradition more profound than either the Catholic or the Protestant—the tradition of a hidden Ireland that existed largely in the anthropological evidence of its surviving customs, beliefs, and holy places, more pagan than Christian.

In 1867, when Yeats was only two, his family moved to London, but he spent much of his boyhood and school holidays in Sligo with his grandparents. This country—its scenery, folklore, and supernatural legend—would colour Yeats's work and form the setting of many of his poems. In 1880 his family moved back to Dublin, where he attended the high school. In 1883 he attended the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, where the most important part of his education was in meeting other poets and artists.

Meanwhile, Yeats was beginning to write: his first publication, two brief lyrics, appeared in the Dublin University Review in 1885. When the family moved back to London in 1887, Yeats took up the life of a professional writer. He joined the Theosophical Society, whose mysticism appealed to him

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