W. B. Yeats

(1865 - 1939)

William Butler Yeats was born in Sandymouth, Ireland, to an Anglo-Irish Protestant family. He spent his childhood summers at his mother’s family home in the seaside town of Sligo. Yeats’ family moved to London early in his life, but despite spending 14 formative years primarily in England, he felt a deep kinship with his country of birth. His writing frequently drew from Irish folklore and political happenings, as well as from mysticism, a lifelong fascination. Yeats began writing poems at 17 and launched his prolific publishing career in 1889 with The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, the first of dozens of poetry collections and plays to come. That same year, Yeats met and fell in love with the young revolutionary Maud Gonne, who rejected his proposals but influenced his politics toward Irish nationalism.

Yeats was at the heart of the Irish Literary Revival and helped to found the Abbey Theatre in 1904, for which he wrote a number of acclaimed plays. At 51, Yeats married 25-year-old Georgie Hyde-Lees, with whom he had two children. He served as a two-term Senator for the Irish Free State late in life and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He is celebrated as a great cultural leader and as one of the major poets of the 20th century.