Yeats, W.B.

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Yeats, W.B. ( William Butler) (1865–1939) Irish poet and dramatist, often cited as the greatest English language poet of the 20th century. In 1904, he and Lady Gregory founded the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, as an Irish national theatre. Yeats' plays On Baile's Strand (1905) and Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) were on the first bill, the latter often regarded as the beginning of the renaissance in Irish literature. His early poetry, collected in The Wanderings of Oisin, and Other Poems (1889), shows the influence of mysticism. Yeats' unrequited love for Maud Gonne inspired him into more directly nationalist statements. The poetry in Responsibilities (1914) acted as contemporary social commentary. Following the creation of the Irish Free State, he served (1922–28) as a senator. Yeats' mature, symbolist poetry, such as A Vision (1925), often adopted dramatic voices. Works from this second phase include Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921, which contains “The Second Coming” and “Easter 1916”) and The Tower (1928, which contains “Sailing to Byzantium”). Yeats received the 1923 Nobel Prize in literature.

Yeats, W. B.

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Yeats, W. B. (1865–1939). Dublin-born poet, dramatist, and essayist. His early years were spent in England where his painter father introduced him to William Morris and his circle. The Wanderings of Oisin (1889) reveals a late Romantic fired with enthusiasm for things Irish though his relationship with the nationalists remained equivocal, too much so for his more committed first love, Maud Gonne. He preferred to associate himself with the Anglo-Irish, ‘bound neither to Cause nor to State … the people of Burke and Grattan’. Though in England at the time of the Easter Rising, in poetry he recorded its ‘terrible beauty’. An inveterate myth-maker, his lifelong addiction to the occult was tempered by involvement in public affairs, the resulting tensions evident in his best volume The Tower (1928). By now honoured with the Nobel prize and a seat in the Senate, he had little liking for de Valera's Ireland. As the 1930s drew on, he contemplated the coming cataclysm with savage satisfaction.

John Saunders