A Short Biography of W.B. Yeats the Irish Poet

Categories: W.b Yeats

William Butler Yeats was born into a Protestant household in Sandymount, Dublin, Ireland on June 13th, 1865. Yeats/ father, John Butler Yeats was a renowned painter. Yeats: mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen was the spawn of a wealthy shipping family. William Butler Yeats spent most of his childhood with the Pollexfen family since his parents were dealing with constant crippling debt that hindered their ability to care for their children. In 1867 his family moved to England at the behest of Yeatså father who believed that the move to England would spark his career as a painter.

In 1877 Yeats began his first consistent schooling at the Godolphin school where he spent the next four years of his life. In 1881 Yeats and his family moved back to Dublin where Yeats attended Erasmus Smith High School. Although he was attending school at Erasmus Smith Yeats spent a large portion of time at his fatherls studio which was nearby. In 1885 Yeats had his first poems published by the Dublin University Review.

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In 1884 Yeats began attending Metropolitan School of Art where he would spent the next two years focusing on writing poetry. (Foster, W.B Yeats: A Life). Yeats family once again moved to London in 1887 which is when Yeats career as a poet truly took off. Yeats in the March of 1890 joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a group which practiced the occult, read metaphysical poetry, and explored the paranormal all of which influenced Yeatså early works as a poet.

Also in 1890 Yeats along with his good buddy Ernest Rhys founded the RhymersClub, a close group of friends that met to recite their verses to each other at local London-based taverns.

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In 1892 Yeats would work with Edwin Ellis to formulate a complete edition of William Blakels works. William Blake was a huge influence on Yeats throughout his career as a poet. Yeats would go on to write several essays exploring the works of William Blake. The Four Zoas of William Blake also had a huge impact on Yeats inclusion of mythological characters in his works. (Bio.com, William Butler Yeats Biography). William Butler Yeats had one significant relationships that affected his writing , that relationship was with an English revolutionary and Suffragist Maud Gonne. Yeatså relationship with Maud Gonne was quite tumultuous. Yeats loved her with unrequited passion that resulted in Yeats proposing to Gonne for a total of three times between 1899 and 1901 all of which she rejected. Gonne instead married the Irish Major John Macbride in 1903 until their 1905 divorce. Gonnels refusal to marry Yeats and her subsequent marriage and divorce to John Macbride mused Yeats to write at profuse level that he would never reach again.

In 1908 Gonne finally caved into the the sexual desires of Yeats and consummated their shaky relationship. The one time consummation with Gonne lead Yeats to write several poems about the event. (Foster, W.B Yeats: A Life) Yeats received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 for his steady production of inspired poetry that shaped a generation. Yeats took the opportunity to claim the award for the newly independent Ireland. Yeats responded to a majority of the congratulation letter by thanking them for supporting Ireland’s first independent Nobel prize winner. In 1922 Yeats was a member of the first Irish senate. Yeats used his skill in writing to argue his point on various social issues affecting Ireland at the time such as divorce quite effectively. After his time in senate Yeats spent most of his time between France and Ireland whilst still writing passionately about whatever was currently afflicting him. Up until his death in Menton, France on January 28th, 1939 Yeats had various relationships with female authors such as Margot Ruddock and Ethel Mannin and remained a profuse author. (Foster, W.B Yeats: A Life).

William Butler Yeats was one of the most influential writers of the early twentieth century. While all of his works are quite famous, his most renowned poems are those of (Sailing to Byzantiumā, The Second Comingo, and (Easter, 19160. Both (Sailing to Byzantiuml and The Second Coming radiate their influence through other literature. For example Cormac Mccarthy took the title No Country For Old Men directly from the lines of ISailing to Byzantiumi. Also Chinua Achebe took the title of his most famous work Things Fall Apart from Yeats(The Second Coming. Clearly a poet has some sort of clout if other well known authors are deciding that his lines express their book better than they could do themselves. (Greenblatt and Abrams, The Norton Anthology of English Literature). Throughout his poetry William Butler Yeats uses various techniques and styles to accomplish his goal of expressing the world around him. These techniques include using various allusions to connect and interweave his narrative with stories or historical events that are well known, using a multitude of comparisons such as similes and metaphors to once again to make the work more relatable and to extrapolate his message to the audience, and simply explaining the current political, historical, and scientifical state in a poetic and flowery way.

All three of these styles culminate to form the lines within (Sailing to Byzantium, The Second Comingo, and IEaster, 1916.0 Yeats explores his aging and his morality in his poem Sailing to Byzantium). This can be clearly shown through the first line of the poem (That is no country for old men.. Yeats immediately introduces the reader to his current situation and presents why he is sailing to Byzantium; to escape the land of youth. Also in the first stanza the line The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies, I expresses Yeatsl idea on not only his own mortality but on the mortality and brevity of man. Yeats does this by comparing man to various animals that the reader would not associate with longevity. Yeats also determines that those who are young are caught up in the moment and can not experience the deep culture around them in the line ICaught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect.l Yeats continues his assault on old age in the second stanza of ISailing to Byzantiuml through the line (An aged man is but a paltry thing.I Through this line he expresses how terrible it is to be in a world of youth as an old man which once again extrapolates his motive to sail to Byzantium.

Yeats now shifts his observance to youth again in the final line of stanza two And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium. Yeats decided to come to a city filled with deep culture to experience his old age since now that his youth has passed he is no longer caught up in the sensual music and can truly understand the holiness around him. At the beginning of stanza three Yeats alludes to a frieze of saints in Byzantium in the line 10 sages Standing in Godis holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre. Now that Yeats has left the land of youth and made it to this holy place he spins around and has an out of body experience. Yeats then goes on to explore his mortality in the line Consume my heart away; sick with desire And fastened to a dying animal.l Yeats expresses that even though he is experiencing euphoria from the sheer amount of culture and holiness around him that his heart is still young even though the rest of his body is withering away.

Also in this line Yeats explores the fact that no matter where in the world he is, whether it be the the land of youth or the personification of culture he still is dying.In the last line of stanza three Yeats writes It knows not what it is; and gather me Into the artifice of eternity. Through this line Yeats explores the fact that his animis wishes to be free of his dying animal of a body and the only way for him to do this is to be turned into the artifice of eternity. This line provides the reason that Yeats writes poetry and the true reason why he came to Byzantium. Yeats writes to turn himself into a piece of artwork that is immortal. This poem is free from the limitations of time and the brevity of man that Yeats so desperately wishes to escape. The true reason that Yeats sails to Byzantium is not just to escape the land of youth that he left behind but to become inspired by the culture around him to write a work that is his existence personified. This is expressed through stanza four lines (Once out of nature I shall never take My Bodily form from any natural things.Yeats explains that once this work is completed he will be free from the earthly constraint of time. The final line of stanza four ITO keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or Set upon a golden bough to sing To lords and ladies of Byzantium of what is past, or passing, or to come perfectly summarizes Yeats purpose for writing Sailing to Byzantium.

This poem shows the omnipresent concern of the brevity of life. By stating that he will sing of what is past or passing or to com Yeats expresses his idea that the only shared issue that man has regardless of his age or location is the passage of time and the mortality associated with it. William Butler Yeats continues to use multiple allusion and comparisons throughout his poem IThe Second Coming”. The message that Yeats is conveying in The Second Coming) is about religion and the morally corrupt society in the post WWI era. The line The falcon cannot hear the falconer expresses how humanity in the post WWI era has lost sight of both God(the falconer) and his values. This analogy is continued in the following line Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Yeats believes in the wake of WWI that humanity is falling apart and that not even God(the center) can keep man from losing their values. Yeats references the a great flood in the line Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere.

Yeats conjures images of the flood in Genesis which was sent because the world was filled with violence and the the wickedness of man was great in the earth. Yeatsl flood is not one of water such as in the bible but of blood. The reason for the flood of blood remains that man is wicked. Yeats biblical description of the world serves to portray a bleak existence and show the depravity of man in the post WWI era. The lines (The Ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensityl serve to explain how WWI happened along with why man is moving away from God. The innocent and the best are either drowned by the flood of blood or are too afraid to speak up for fear of being drowned themselves by the the worst who are full of passionate intensity. Yeats clearly believes that humanity is approaching a biblical armageddon through his line Surely some revelation is at hand.

Yeats references the book of revelation which describes the second coming of Christ and the subsequent battle between good and evil. Yeats image of the end of the world is directly caused by the the spirit(actions) of the world in the lines (When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi. Yeats also references that the antichrist is possibly already born in the line Isomewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun is moving its slow thighs, while all about it. The antichrist is prophesied to come from the middle east(the sands of the desert), be a ruthless leader(which is represented with the lion body; insinuates that the beast has the heart of a lion; also it is a possible reference to Machiavelli; Yeats claims that the antichrist will lead like a lion rather than a fox.), and cunningly charismatic(which is shown by the beast having the head(brain) of a human.) Yeats believes that the humanity is unaware of the antichrist all about it.

Yeats believes the end of the world is imminent which is shown through his line I And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? Yeats states that the hour of judgment has come round at last and that this beast is making its way to Bethlehem to fight Christ in the final battle for the fate of humanity. In Easter, 19161 William Butler Yeats explores his personal opinions and thoughts about Easter Rising, a militant rebellion against the United Kingdom that occurred in 1916.

In the First Stanza Yeatsl mourns the countless people that lost their lives during Easter Rising. He describes how he casually passed those who died in the line I Have passed with a nod of the head Or polite meaningless words, Or have lingered awhile and said Polite meaningless words.I Yeats is perplexed by the fact that these people he has casually talked to in the past or now suddenly dead. Yeats at first believes that he has little in common with those who died besides the fact that they both live in Dublin in the line | Being certain that they and I But lived where motley is worn.In stanza two the revolution becomes more personal to Yeats since he begins to associate with the woman who he loves Maud Gonne in the lines That woman’s days were spent in ignorant good-will, Her nights in argument Until her voice grew shrill. What voice more sweet than her When, young and beautiful, she rode to harriers.

Yeats loved Maud Gonne and as a result of this begins to more or less understand the rebellion. Also in stanza two Yeats begins to list people he knew that participated in the rebellion. Once again Yeats acknowledging that people he knew and liked participated shows that he does have more in common with the people that participated than just the motley clothes they share. Yeats repeats the line 1A terrible beauty is born to alter its meaning from the first time he states it at the end of stanza one. In stanza one DA terrible beauty is bornl is insincere and light hearted stating that this rebellion was nothing much to be admired. When Yeats repeats this line in stanza two it changes its meaning from sarcasm to that of deep appreciation for those who gave their lives to fight the unjustness of the United Kingdom.

In the last stanza of IEaster, 19161 Yeats concludes by expressing his solemn thoughts about the rebellion considering both sides. He open the last stanza with Too long a sacrifice Can make a stone of the heat/ which refers again to Maud Gonnels activism. He believes that if you focus solely on the issues afflicting a mass of people whilst not dealing with issues afflicting oneself that onels heart will grow cold as if a stone. Yeats believes this is the reason why his relationship with Maud Gonne never panned out. Near the end of the last stanza Yeats begins to list names of names and writes the line (And what if excess of love Bewildered them till they died?) which relates his staunch support for the revolutionaries and that their actions come from their heat and their deep rooted love for their country. Seeing as William Butler Yeats was one of the illustrious and influential poets of the 20th century he garnered quite the amount of literary criticism from critics across the globe.

Yeats as a poet mystified and peeked the interest of many critics due to his unique style and politically motivated poems. Other critics were peeked by his two most famous works ISailing to Byzantiuml and The Second Coming.. Curtis Bradford in Yeats/s Byzantium Poems: A Study of their Development explores the central idea of youth throughout Yeatsl poetry. Curtis believed that Yeats: was inspired by classical culture just as Lord Byron was.(Bradford, Yeatsis Byzantium Poems: A Study of their Development), Bradford also expresses how throughout most of Yeatsl poetry the message of the brevity of youth is present and how it culminates in Yeats) iSailing to Byzantium.] Bradford believes that as Yeats grew older and closer to death that he began to focus on his imminent death and how he could possibly preserve his existence through poetry.

Another critic of Yeats that shares the ideas of Bradford is Denis Donoghue in The Occult Years. While Bradford was more concerned with Yeats idea of youth, Donoghue is more interested in how Yeatsi poetry focuses on the mind and the body existing separately of each other. Donoghue also uses Sailing to Byzantiuml as his main claim for Yeats being concerned with the separateness of body and soul. Donoghue uses the lines in Sailing to Byzantiuml that describe him wanting to leave his worldly body behind and become a golden bird that serves the future rulers of Byzantium for years to come. Donoghue claims that since Yeatswishes to leave his dying animal body behind and exist as an artifice that he believes in a sort Cartesian dualism. (Donoghue, The Occult Years). Donoghue qualifies this claim by stating that Yeats/ believes he can achieve a true separation of body and mind through writing his poetry which Donoghue claims is the reason that Yeatsl even writes poetry in the first place. William Butler Yeats was a heavily criticized poet throughout the 20th century which only goes to show his true stretch and influence on society and literature around him. Yeats message and motive for writing poetry is still discussed and debated to this day.

Works Cited

  1. “William Butler Yeats Biography.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
  2. Bradford, Curtis. “Yeats’s Byzantium Poems: A Study of Their Development.” Pmla 75.1 (1960): 110. Web.
  3. Donoghue, Denis. “The Occult Yeats.” Irish Essays: 98-112. Web.
  4. Foster, R. F. W.B. Yeats: A Life. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.
  5. Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: Norton, 2006. Print.

Cite this page

A Short Biography of W.B. Yeats the Irish Poet. (2021, Oct 11). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-short-biography-of-w-b-yeats-the-irish-poet-essay

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