Last September, the Embassy of Ireland in London hosted a special event – the launch of Yeats2015, a year-long international celebration of the famous poet W.B.Yeats. It would mark the 150th anniversary of his birth and also be an appropriate tribute to his life and work.
Yeats was born in Ireland and was passionate about Irish literature throughout his life. His poetry was influenced by his beliefs and it continues to resonate with readers even today.
Let’s trace the life of this Nobel laureate.
The Life of Yeats
William Butler Yeats was born in Sandymount, in Dublin Ireland on June 13th, 1865. His father John was a law student who later pursued art, and young William and his siblings moved back and forth between Dublin and London during much of their childhood.
Most of their holidays were spent with their mother’s family in Sligo, western Ireland, a region whose landscape, culture and folklore influenced his own work as well as his brother John’s paintings. Young Yeats was also introduced to mythology and the occult, subjects that engaged him throughout his life.
While his family belonged to the dominant Protestant minority which associated themselves with the British, Yeats firmly considered himself Irish. Indeed many of his poems and plays reflect Irish legends and castles. He became active in politics, which resulted in him becoming an Irish senator in 1922 when the Irish Free State was formed. He served for 6 years but continued to write well into his seventies.
In 1939, Yeats died in France on a trip there. He was buried at Roquebrune, but as per his wish, his remains were later taken to Sligo and buried at Drumcliffe in 1948.
A Poet Par Excellence.
In 1885, Yeats started composing poems as a young man of 20. Many of his early works were later published as “The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems”.
Later in London, he also co-founded the Rhymer’s Club for poets to share their verses, with his own contribution becoming The Wind among the Reeds. In 1899, as Yeats began writing dramas, he established the Irish Literary Theater along with other like-minded people to stage Irish and Celtic plays. His plays were influenced by the Japanese Noh style of writing, which tended to be musical rather than heavy on prose.
Yeats became famous when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, becoming one of the first Irish laureates. His book The Tower was set in his own castle, which he had bought and restored. Unusually, many of his best works were written when he was well past 50, and they continue to be popular today.
Celebrations to honor him have already kicked off with the oldest bar in his hometown of Sligo hosting a reading of Yeats poems at lunchtime every day since the beginning of the New Year. In January, his birthplace Sandymount was host to the Harp Festival of Moons, where a harpist played during moon rise as recognition of his attachment to all things mystical. His birthday on June 13th is expected to be commemorated worldwide.
Would you like to participate too? Why not pick your favorite poem by Yeats and read it aloud to your family or friends on June 13th. Here is a reading of one of his most famous poems.