One of Ireland's famous literary sons and its foremost poet, William Butler Yeats was a hugely influential figure in 19th Century Ireland. Yeats helped establish Dublin's Abbey Theatre and won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin on 13th June 1865. Yeats' family were a very well to do, Anglo Irish Protestant family, his father was a Barrister and his brother Jack Butler Yeats would later find fame as an artist. Yeats' mother was from Co. Sligo, where her father had been rector at Drumcliffe Church. The association with Sligo was of huge importance to Yeats' writings, for though he was born and educated in Dublin, his literature drew on the rich Irish folklore and iconic landscapes that he found in his maternal home county.
Much of Yeats early poetry was influenced by religious symbols, Irish mythology and the romantics most notably Shelley. Yeats' first significant work was the Isle of Statues, published in the Dublin University Review and was followed by The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Stories in 1889. Here Yeats delves into the Irish Mythology of the Fenian Cycle.
In 1889, Yeats met Maude Gonne, who was to have a huge influence on his writings. Yeats became besotted with Gonne and asked her to marry him two years after they met. She rejected him, and was to reject his proposal on three further occasions. In 1896, Yeats was to meet a second influential female figure in his life, Lady Gregory, whom he would later marry. It was Lady Gregory who encouraged, Yeats' Irish nationalism and together with J M Synge, Sean O'Casey and Padraic Colum, Yeats established a literary movement known as the Irish Literary Revival or Celtic Revival.
In 1904, this movement found its stage, when Yeats, J. M. Synge, Lady Gregory, Martyn and George Moore founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The Abbey is both famous and infamous in Ireland for staging ground breaking but controversial productions such as J.M. Synge's Playboy of the Western World' and Sean O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars.
Throughout his career, Yeats' writings portrayed a number of influences. As well as romanticism, his earlier work was influenced by mysticism, which remained a life long interest of Yeats'. In his later years Yeats' poetry became more politicised, as the fervour for Irish nationalism grew stronger during the late 19th Century. When Ireland gained independence, Yeats was appointed to the Irish Senate in 1922 and again in 1925. The crowning glory of Yeats' career came in 1923 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, for his inspired poetry, which gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.
On 28th January 1939, William Butler Yeats died aged 73. In accordance with his last wishes, Yeats is buried at the Drumcliffe Church in County Sligo that his grandfather once practiced. On his tombstone is written Yeats' epitaph, taken from the last line of one of his last poems, Under Ben Bulben, Cast a cold Eye, On Life, on Death. Horseman, pass by!
In Co. Sligo, the Yeats Society was established in 1958 to commemorate Yeats and promote his works. The Yeats Society is located in the Yeats Memorial building in Sligo town, which also houses the Yeats Exhibition Centre and the Sligo Art Gallery, displaying works from J.B Yeats. The Yeats Society runs the Yeats International Summer School in the first weekend of August, with lectures and seminars on literature and a winter school held over the last weekend in January. In conjunction with the summer school, there is a Yeats Festival held in Sligo from the last week in July to the first in August. The festival boasts an energetic two weeks of entertainments in literature, music and drama.