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Biography of William Butler Yeats

An image of William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats was born in Sandymount, Dublin on June 13th, 1865. John Butler Yeats, Williams father, studied law at an early age, but then soon turned to portrait painting as means of support. His mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen, was an Anglo-Irish woman from Sligo.

At an early age the William Butler moved to Sligo to stay with his extended family. There he would find a true childhood home.

The Yeats were very artistic. Jack, Williams brother, became a well-known painter and his sisters, Elizabeth and Susan, were involved in the Arts and Crafts movement.

The family then moved to London where John would try and further his career. However, things did not work out as planned and the family moved back to Dublin. There, William spent much of his time at his fathers studio meeting with many of Dublin's painters and writers.

William attended Erasmus Smith High School in Dublin from October 1881 until December of 1883. During this time William began writing poetry and by 1885 his first poem and essay, "The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson" was published in the Dublin University Review. From 1884 to 1886 he then studied at Metropolitan School of Art in Kildare Street.

In 1889 Yeats met a woman, Maud Gonne, which he grew great affection for. From then on his poetry and life would change. After being rejected by Gonne to marry him three times, in 1899, 1900 and 1901, she married in 1903 to John MacBride. That year Yeats extended his stay in America.

Yeats met a woman by the name of Lady Augusta Gregory in 1896 who would persuade him to continue writing drama and later help establish the Irish Literary Revival, also known as Celtic Revival. Yeats and others, Lady Augusta Gregory, Martyn and George Moore, then went on to open the Abbey Theatre on December 27th, 1904 and establish the Irish National Theatre Society.

In 1902 Yeats set up the Dun Emer Press where he would publish writings within the Revival. The press was renamed to Cuala Press in 1904 and remained that way until its closure in 1946. The press published over 70 titles, most (48) from William Butler himself.

Then in 1917 William Butler Yeats spent the summer with Maud Gonne before proposing to her daughter, whom rejected his offer. However, later that year he proposed to Georgie Hyde-Lees in September before marrying on October 20th. Around that time he would buy a Ballylee Castle and rename it Thoor Ballylee.

In Yeats' later years, he moved away from political subjects and onto more personal avenues. Then after a variety of illnesses, Yeats died in Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France on 28 January 1939.

Yeats was buried at Roquebrune until his final wish was carried out which led his body to Drumecliff, Sligo in September, 1948, on the corvette Irish Macha. His epitaph states "Cast a cold eye on life, on death; horseman, pass by!" which was a line from his poem Under Ben Bulben.

Poems by William Butler Yeats