William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats

Sandymount, County Dublin, Ireland
Death 28 Jan 1939 (aged 73)
Cannes, Departement des Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
Burial* Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Departement des Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France

* This is the original burial site

Memorial ID 43924110 · View Source
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Poet and Playwright. W. B. Yeats’ heritage was Protestant Anglo-Irish. Although the minority in Ireland, they controlled the economic, political, social, and cultural life of this country since at least the end of the 17th century. Most considered themselves as “English people” who happened to have been born in Ireland, but not Yeats, who was proud of his Irish nationality. It was this pride that emerged in his writings. He was the son of a portrait painter, John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen, a very quiet woman who was the daughter of a prosperous merchant. Their house was divided on political opinions with his father sympathetic toward Irish freedom, while his mother’s family supported the English Crown. This household, which was one of the most significant artistic families in 20th century Ireland, included two sisters and a younger brother. As a boy, he was educated in London for 14 years. For most of his life, he resided between his beloved Ireland and for thirty years, his part-time residence in London. He never fully embraced his Protestant heritage, nor did he join with the majority of the Irish Roman Catholics, instead he devoted much of his life to study of theosophy, mysticism, spiritualism, the occult and the related viewpoints. Though Yeats never learned Gaelic himself, his writing at the turn of the century drew extensively from sources in Irish mythology or history. For nearly thirty years, he has an off-and-on romantic relationship with beautiful free-spirited Irish revolutionary named Maud Gonne. When he joined in the Irish nationalist cause, he did so partly from conviction, but mostly for love of this woman. He asked her to be his bride at least four times without success. He drew from his passion for her to write many of his poems. In 1902 Maud was cast in the lead role of his play “Cathleen ni Houlihan”. He wrote a total of 10 plays in the first decade of the 20th century. In the end, he lost Maud to another man. Feeling that he needed to produce an heir was expressed in his poem “Responsibilities”. Fulfilling this need, a 51-year-old Yeats did eventually marry a 25-years-old Georgie Hyde Lees on October 20, 1917. They produced a son, Michael, and a daughter, Anne; he honored each at their births with a poem. As a successful poet and playwright, in 1903 he went on his first lecture tour of the United States, and again in 1914, 1920, and 1932. He received an Honorary Degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1922. The same year he was appointed a senator of the Irish Free State serving for six years before resigning because of poor health. In 1923, he was the first Irishman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel Committee described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation". Pulitzer Prize recipient, poet, and critic, W. H. Auden, claimed Yeats wrote “some of the most beautiful poetry” of modern times; Auden wrote the poem “In Memory of WB Yeats”. Besides being a poet and cultural leader, he is remembered as a major playwright. He was one of the founders of the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin and for fifteen years, was actively involved with casting, productions and management of the company. As with any poet, their works changed through the years. In his later writings, his style changed from his prefect traditional form to his own personal style; he did not care for modern free verse. He wrote later about the aging process, school children and the present-day world instead of Irish mythology or history. After Ireland became “free”, poems about bloody rebellions, such as “Easter 1916”, declined, yet he always maintained his mysticism and occult overtones. He is considered to be one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize: “The Tower” in 1928; “The Winding Stair and Other Poems” in 1933; and “Last Poems and Plays” published posthumously in January 1940. All made him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. He was first buried in a 10-year leased grave site at Roquebrune, France but was re-interred with a state funeral in 1948 in Drumcliff Churchyard, County Sligo, Ireland. The outbreak of the World War II, dying in France, and a frozen-hard January ground altered his original burial plans to be buried “under bare Ben Bulben’s head” in Drumcliff Churchyard. Over the years, there have been published stories questioning which remains were actually transferred from the French cemetery and put to rest in Yeats’ Irish grave. A detailed investigation followed, but in 1988, his children replied in a published statement that they were satisfied, it was a family matter and did not want pursue the matter further. A bronze sculpture of Yeats by Rowan Gillespie stands on Stephen Street overlooking Sligo town. This most interesting work features snippets from his poetry engraved randomly over it. Located in Dublin, The National Library of Ireland has, with over 2,000 items, the largest collection of W.B. Yeats manuscripts in the world. This collection was donated by the Yeats family and contains the genealogy of both the Yeats and Pollexfen lines.

Bio by: Linda Davis


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: julia&keld
  • Added: 4 Nov 2009
  • Find a Grave Memorial 43924110
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for William Butler Yeats (13 Jun 1865–28 Jan 1939), Find a Grave Memorial no. 43924110, citing Cimetière de Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Departement des Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France ; Maintained by Find A Grave .