William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865. He was born into a highly artistic family with his father being a talented painter and his sisters involved in the arts and craft movement. Yeats grew up under the nationalist revival of the late 19th century which disadvantaged his heritage and influenced his attitude and outlook for the rest of his life. In 1876 the Yeats family moved to England to benefit William’s fathers painting career. William was home schooled for while, then transferred to a primary school where he didn’t stand out academically.
The family moved back to Dubin because of financial issues and William resumed his education. Shortly after, in 1885 his first poem was published and he attended an art school. His early work was highly influenced by Irish myth and folklore and the writings of William Blake who was an English poet. The family then returned to London in 1885 where Yeats became quite heavily involved in poetry and also formed the Dublin Hermetic Order which was involved in mysticism, spiritualism and astrology.
Yeats became drawn into theosophical beliefs and tried to gain contact with the other world. His poetry and writings were a display of his passion for mysticism and the occult science. In 1890 he became involved in the Golden Dawn which practiced many forms of spiritual development. In 1889 Maud Gonne became part of William’s life when he instantly developed an obsession with her beauty and outspoken nature. He proposed 4 times, each times being rejected and in 1903 she married an Irish nationalist John Macbride.
Maud had devoted herself to political struggle but Yeats was more interested in folktales and Celtic identity. She refused Yeats because she didn’t believe he was a true republican because he refused to convert to Roman Catholicism. However, Yeats’s poetry, politics and his involvement with the occult received an extra boost due to her presence. In 1896 Yeats was introduced to Lady Gregory who encouraged Yeats’s nationalism and convinced him to focus on writing more drama.
Along with Lady Gregory and other writers, Yeats was responsible for the establishment of the Irish Literacy Revival (Celtic Revival) which was a group against the cultural influences of the English rule in Ireland. It focused on the spirit of Ireland’s native heritage and bringing the Irish culture back into the world. The Revival opened the Irish Literary Theatre which was unsuccessful. With the aid of some experience and finance they helped create the Abbey theatre for the purpose for performing Celtic and Irish plays. Yeats was nvolved with the Abbey group until his death. In 1913, Yeats met an American poet by the name of Ezra Pound who later acted as Years’ secretary. Yeats modelled plays around modernist plays Pound influenced and abstained for him. Yeats was a professional traditional writer, but when influenced by modernism his work abandoned the poetic nature that his early work featured and gained a more direct approach. His political concerns moved away from cultural politics. He gained focus on the poverty and suffering of the Irish peasant.
By 1916 Yeats was 51 years old and missing his youth. He was determined to marry, and in September that year he proposed to George (Georgie) Hyde-Lees. Her interest in spiritualism resembled those of Yeats’ and he admired her involvement in automatic writing which he believed involved her in a variety of spirits. Their marriage was successful and they had two children, Michael and Anne. In 1922 Yeats was appointed to government in the Irish Senate which made him a public figure.
This also influenced his writing through politics as aristocratic attitudes reappeared. His involvement with politics often influenced many poems as he had strong opinions on Ireland and the As Yeats began to grow old his work turned more personal. He focussed on the subjects of ageing and his family. It became evident that one of his worst fears was that of growing old resulting in the loss of youth and creative talent. However he continued to write poems until he died in France on 28 January 1939 of old age.