William Butler Yeats - Encyclopedia

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'WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS (1865-), Irish author, son of J. B. Yeats (b. 1839), a distinguished Irish artist and member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, was born at Sandymount, Dublin, on the 13th of June 1865. At nine years old he went to live with his parents in London, and was sent to the Godolphin School, Hammersmith. At fifteen he went to the Erasmus Smith School in Dublin. Later he studied painting for a short time at the Royal Dublin Society, but soon turned to literature, contributing poems and articles to the Dublin University Review and other Irish periodicals. In 1888 he was encouraged by Oscar Wilde to try his fortune in London, where he published in 1889 his first volume of verse, The Wanderings of Oisin; its original and romantic touch impressed discerning critics, and started a new interest in the "Celtic" movement. The same year and the next he contributed to Mr Walter Scott's "Camelot Series," edited by Ernest Rhys, Fairy and Folk Tales, a collection of Irish folklore, and Tales from Carleton, with original introductions. In 1891 he wrote anonymously two Irish stories, John Sherman and Dhoya, for Mr Fisher Unwin's "Pseudonym Library." In 1892 he published another volume of verse, including The Countess Kathleen (a romantic drama), which gave the book its title, and in 1893 The Celtic Twilight, a volume of essays and sketches in prose. He now submitted his earlier poetical work to careful revision, and it was in the revised versions of The Wanderings of Usheen and The Countess Kathleen, and the lyrics given in his collected Poems of 1895 that his authentic poetical note found adequate expression and was recognized as marking the rise of a new Irish school. In the meantime he had followed The Countess Kathleen with another poetical drama, The Land of Heart's Desire, acted at the Avenue Theatre for six weeks in the spring of 1894, published in May of that year. He contributed to various periodicals, notably to the National Observer and the Bookman, and also to the Book of the Rhymers Club - the English Parnasse Contemporain of the early 'nineties. With Edwin J. Ellis he edited the Works of William Blake (1893), and also edited A Book of Irish Verse (1895). In 1897 appeared The Secret Rose, a collection of Irish legends and tales in prose, with poetry interspersed, containing the stories of Hanrahan the Red. The same year he printed privately The Tables of the Law and the Adoration of the Magi, afterwards published in a volume of Mr Elkin Mathews's "Vigo Street Cabinet" in 1904. In 1889 he published The Wind among the Reeds, containing some of his best lyrics, and in 1900 another poetical drama, The Shadowy Waters. He now became specially interested in the establishment of an Irish literary theatre; and he founded and conducted an occasional periodical (appearing fitfully at irregular intervals), called first Beltain and later Samhain, to expound its aims and preach his own views, the first number appearing in May 1899. In the autumn of 1901 Mr F. R. Benson's company produced in London the play Diarmuid and Grania, written in collaboration by him and George Moore. In 1902 he published his own first original play in prose, Cathleen ni Houlihan, which was printed in Samhain in October that year. In 1903 he collected and published a volume of literary and critical essays, to which he gave the title, Ideas of Good and Evil. In the same and the following years he published a collected edition of his Plays for an Irish Theatre, comprising Where There is Nothing, The HourGlass, Cathleen ni Houlihan, The Pot of Broth, The King's Threshold and On Baile's Strand. In 1904 he also edited two volumes of Irish Representative Tales. Whether or not "Celtic" is the right word for it, Mr Yeats's art was quickly identified by enthusiasts with the literary side of the new Irish national movement. His inspiration may be traced in some measure to the Pre-Raphaelites and also to Blake, Shelley and Maeterlinck; but he found in his native Irish legend and life matter apt for his romantic and often elfin music, with its artful simplicities and unhackneyed cadences, and its elusive, inconclusive charm.

See the section on W. B. Yeats in Poets of the Younger Generation by William Archer (1902), and for bibliography up to June 1903, English Illustrated Magazine, vol. xxix. (N.S.) p. 288. A library edition of his collected works in prose and verse was issued by Mr Bullen from the Shakespeare Head Works, Stratford-on-Avon, in 8 vols., 1908.

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