William Butler Yeats biography

William Butler Yeats

Poet, Author

1865 – 1939


Who was William Butler Yeats?

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. Yeats was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and, along with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and others, founded the Abbey Theatre, where he served as its chief during its early years. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as the first Irishman so honoured for what the Nobel Committee described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation." Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower and The Winding Stair and Other Poems. Yeats was a very good friend of American expatriate poet and Bollingen Prize laureate Ezra Pound. Yeats wrote the introduction for Tagore's Gitanjali, which was about to be published by the India Society.

He was born in Dublin and educated there and in London; he spent his childhood holidays in County Sligo. He studied poetry in his youth and from an early age was fascinated by both Irish legends and the occult. Those topics feature in the first phase of his work, which lasted roughly until the turn of the 20th century. His earliest volume of verse was published in 1889, and its slow-paced and lyrical poems display Yeats's debts to Edmund Spenser, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the poets of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. From 1900, Yeats's poetry grew more physical and realistic. He largely renounced the transcendental beliefs of his youth, though he remained preoccupied with physical and spiritual masks, as well as with cyclical theories of life.

Famous Quotes:

  • Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart. O. When may it suffice?
  • I balanced all, brought all to mind, the years to come seemed waste of breath, a waste of breath the years behind, in balance with this life, this death.
  • But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
  • Think where man's glory most begins and ends, And say my glory was I had such friends.
  • The worst thing about some men is that when they are not drunk they are sober.
  • The intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life, or of the work, and if it take the second must refuse a heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
  • The only business of the head in the world is to bow a ceaseless obeisance to the heart.
  • The years like great black oxen tread the world, and God the herdsman treads them on behind, and I am broken by their passing feet.
  • The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
  • I think you can leave the arts, superior or inferior, to the conscience of mankind.


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Jun 13, 1865
Also known as
  • W.B. Yeats
  • W. B. Yeats
  • W. B. (William Butler) Yeats
  • Yeats, William Butler
  • B. W Yeats
  • Anglicanism
  • Irish people
  • Republic of Ireland
  • National College of Art and Design
    (1884 - 1886)
Lived in
  • County Dublin
Jan 28, 1939

on July 23, 2013

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