Thursday, 28 January 2016

28‭ ‬January‭ ‬1939:‭ ‬The death of William Butler Yeats on this day.‭ ‬He died at‭ ‬Roquebrune-Cap-Martin,‭ ‬in the south of France.‭ ‬He was Ireland’s most distinguished poet and playwright of the‭ ‬20th Century.‭ ‬Yeats‭’ ‬works drew heavily on Irish mythology and history.‭ ‬He never fully embraced his Protestant past or the Catholic Religion but he devoted much of his life to study in numerous subjects including theosophy,‭ ‬mysticism,‭ ‬spiritualism,‭ ‬and the Kabala.

He was born on‭ ‬13‭ ‬June‭ ‬1865‭ ‬in Sandymount in County Dublin,‭ ‬Ireland.‭ ‬His father was John Butler Yeats,‭ ‬a well known portrait painter and his mother was Susan Mary Pollexfen who was the daughter of a wealthy family from County Sligo.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1884‭ ‬W.‭ ‬B.‭ ‬Yeats enrolled in the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin during which some of his first poems were printed in the‭ ‬Dublin University Review.‭ ‬He afterwards moved to London where his father was based though he was often homesick for Ireland.‭ ‬Though he visited Sligo almost every summer.‭ ‬He spent time in the British Museum of Natural History doing research for such collaborations as‭ ‬Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry‭ (‬1888‭)‬,‭ ‬Irish Fairy Tales‭ (‬1892‭)‬,‭ ‬and‭ ‬A Book of Irish Verse‭ (‬1895‭)‬.

In‭ ‬1894‭ ‬Yeats met Lady Augusta Gregory of Coole Park and he became involved with The Irish Literary Theatre,‭ ‬which became the Abbey Theatre.‭ ‬One of the first plays to be performed there was Yeats‭’ ‬Cathleen ni Houlihan,‭ ‬with Maud Gonne in the title role.‭ ‬The Abbey Theatre opened in December of‭ ‬1904‭ ‬and became the flagship for leading Irish playwrights and actors.‭ ‬Yeats‭’ ‬On Baile’s Strand was one of its first productions.‭ ‬Of his many dramatic and successful works to follow,‭ ‬The Countess Cathleen‭ (‬1892‭)‬,‭ ‬The Land of Heart’s Desire‭ (‬1894‭) ‬and‭ ‬The King’s Threshold‭ (‬1904‭) ‬are among his best known.

As a successful poet and playwright,‭ ‬in‭ ‬1903‭ ‬Yeats went on a lecture tour of the United States,‭ ‬and again in‭ ‬1914,‭ ‬1920,‭ ‬and‭ ‬1932.‭ ‬Yeats and his sisters started the Cuala Press in‭ ‬1904,‭ ‬which would print over seventy titles.‭ ‬At the age of forty-six,‭ ‬in‭ ‬1911,‭ ‬Yeats met Georgie‭ (‬George‭) ‬Hyde Lees‭ (‬1892-1968‭) ‬and they married on‭ ‬20‭ ‬October‭ ‬1917.‭ ‬They had two children‭; ‬Anne‭ (‬born‭ ‬1919‭) ‬and Michael was born August‭ ‬1921.

In‭ ‬1916‭ ‬the Easter Rising occurred in Dublin,‭ ‬and some of Yeats‭’ ‬friends participated in it.‭ ‬This prompted his poem‭ “‬Easter‭” (‬Sept.‭ ‬1916‭)‬.‭ ‬In this year the first volume of Yeats‭’ ‬autobiography‭ ‬Reveries over Childhood and Youth was published,‭ ‬with the second following in‭ ‬1922‭ ‬titled‭ ‬The Trembling of the Veil.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1917‭ ‬Yeats bought the Norman tower‭ ‘‬Thoor Ballylee‭’ ‬near Coole Park in Galway for his summer home.‭ ‬The‭ ‬Wild Swans at Coole was then published in‭ ‬1919.‭

In‭ ‬1922‭ ‬Yeats received an Honorary degree from Trinity College,‭ ‬Dublin‭ ‬.‭ ‬He was elected to the Irish Free State Senate in the same year,‭ ‬and he served for six years before resigning to due to failing health.‭ ‬In December of‭ ‬1923‭ ‬he established his International reputation when he was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature.‭ ‬He continued to work on his essays,‭ ‬poetry and the poetry anthology‭ ‬Oxford Book of Modern Verse‭ ‬1892-1935.‭ ‬As well as Coole Park he also spent time in his home‭ ‘‬Riversdale‭’ ‬at Rathfarnham,‭ ‬Dublin but also spent a number of winters abroad.

When he died in France at the age of‭ ‬73‭ ‬he was first buried there,‭ ‬but in‭ ‬1948,‭ ‬as were his wishes he was re-interred‭ “‬under bare Ben Bulben’s head‭” ‬in Drumcliff churchyard,‭ ‬County Sligo,‭ ‬Ireland.‭ ‬As a mark of Honour,‭ ‬the Irish Navy sent a ship to bring his body back to Ireland.‭ ‬His gravestone is inscribed with the epitaph‭
‬Cast a cold Eye,‭ ‬On Life,‭ ‬On Death.‭ ‬Horseman pass by‭!

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