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About this poet

Born in Dublin, Ireland, on June13, 1865, William Butler Yeats was the son of a well-known Irish painter, John Butler Yeats. He spent his childhood in County Sligo, where his parents were raised, and in London. He returned to Dublin at the age of fifteen to continue his education and study painting, but quickly discovered he preferred poetry. Born into the Anglo-Irish landowning class, Yeats became involved with the Celtic Revival, a movement against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period, which sought to promote the spirit of Ireland's native heritage. Though Yeats never learned Gaelic himself, his writing at the turn of the century drew extensively from sources in Irish mythology and folklore. Also a potent influence on his poetry was the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, whom he met in 1889, a woman equally famous for her passionate nationalist politics and her beauty. Though she married another man in 1903 and grew apart from Yeats (and Yeats himself was eventually married to another woman, Georgie Hyde Lees), she remained a powerful figure in his poetry.

Yeats was deeply involved in politics in Ireland, and in the twenties, despite Irish independence from England, his verse reflected a pessimism about the political situation in his country and the rest of Europe, paralleling the increasing conservativism of his American counterparts in London, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. His work after 1910 was strongly influenced by Pound, becoming more modern in its concision and imagery, but Yeats never abandoned his strict adherence to traditional verse forms. He had a life-long interest in mysticism and the occult, which was off-putting to some readers, but he remained uninhibited in advancing his idiosyncratic philosophy, and his poetry continued to grow stronger as he grew older. Appointed a senator of the Irish Free State in 1922, he is remembered as an important cultural leader, as a major playwright (he was one of the founders of the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin), and as one of the very greatest poets—in any language—of the century. W. B. Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 and died in 1939 at the age of seventy-three.

The Wild Swans at Coole

W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
The trees are in their autumn beauty,	 
The woodland paths are dry,	 
Under the October twilight the water	 
Mirrors a still sky;	 
Upon the brimming water among the stones	         
Are nine and fifty swans.	 
  
The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me	 
Since I first made my count;	 
I saw, before I had well finished,	 
All suddenly mount	  
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings	 
Upon their clamorous wings.	 
  
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,	 
And now my heart is sore.	 
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,	  
The first time on this shore,	 
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,	 
Trod with a lighter tread.	 
  
Unwearied still, lover by lover,	 
They paddle in the cold,	  
Companionable streams or climb the air;	 
Their hearts have not grown old;	 
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,	 
Attend upon them still.	 
  
But now they drift on the still water	  
Mysterious, beautiful;	 
Among what rushes will they build,	 
By what lake's edge or pool	 
Delight men's eyes, when I awake some day	 
To find they have flown away?

This poem is in the public domain.

W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats

The work of William Butler Yeats, born in 1865, was greatly influenced by the heritage and politics of Ireland.

by this poet

poem
I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a
poem

Hands, do what you're bid:
Bring the balloon of the mind
That bellies and drags in the wind
Into its narrow shed.

poem
Wine comes in at the mouth   
And love comes in at the eye;   
That’s all we shall know for truth   
Before we grow old and die.   
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.