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World Book Encyclopedia Biography
Yeats, pronounced yayts, William Butler
(1865-1939), an Irish poet and dramatist, won the 1923 Nobel
Prize for literature. Many critics consider him the greatest poet
of his time. Yeats led the Irish Literary Revival, a movement of
the late 1800's and early 1900's that stimulated new appreciation
of traditional Irish literature. The movement also encouraged the
creation of works written in the spirit of Irish culture, as
distinct from English culture.
Yeats developed elaborate theories about history as a recurring cycle of events. He expressed his views about history and life through the use of old Irish tales and the facts and legends of Irish history. His views also reflect his belief in the supernatural. Yeats published his theories in A Vision (1925), a book that can help with the interpretation of some of his more difficult poems.
Yeats was born in Dublin and lived in London for part of his childhood. He spent many holidays in Sligo, a county in western Ireland that he loved and often wrote about. In 1898, he joined the authors Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn in establishing the Irish Literary Theatre. It was reorganized in 1904 as the Abbey Theatre, which became world famous.
The Irish Literary Theatre was founded partly to support Irish nationalism by encouraging the writing and production of plays about Irish life. The theater performed most of Yeats's 26 plays, and he served until his death as one of the directors who managed the institution. The theater's first production was Yeats's The Countess Cathleen, written in 1891. This play was inspired in part by the author's love for Maud Gonne, a beautiful Irish nationalist leader. She became the subject of many of his plays and love lyrics.
Yeats's verse, unlike that of most poets, improved as he grew older. He wrote much of his best work in the last 10 years of his life. His most important works were published in Collected Plays (1952) and The Poems: A New Edition (1984). Memoirs, containing autobiographical writings, was published in 1973.
Contributor: Lorraine Weir, Ph.D., Prof. of English and Comparative Literature, Univ. of British Columbia.
The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats: Vol. 1, The Poems. Rev. ed. by Richard J. Finneran. Macmillan, 1989.
Jeffares, Alexander N. W. B. Yeats: A New Biography. Farrar, 1989.
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