William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) is one of Ireland's foremost figures of 20th-century literature.

William Butler Yeats

A picture of William Butler Yeats (W. B. Yeats) who was an Irish poet.

A picture of William Butler Yeats who was an Irish poet.

Bertha Georgia Hyde Lees beside W. B. Yeats

A picture of William Butler Yeats with his wife, Bertha Georgia Hyde Lees.

Born in Sandymount in south Co. Dublin, the family relocated to his mother's home at Merville, Sligo to stay with extended family. Here the young poet came to think of Co. Sligo as his childhood and spiritual home. Its landscape became, over time, both literally and symbolically, his "country of the heart".

His father, John Butler Yeats (1839–1922), was a lawyer and a well-known portrait painter. The Butler Yeats family were highly artistic; William's brother Jack B. Yeats became an esteemed painter, and his sisters Elizabeth Yeats and Susan Mary Yeats (aka Lollie and Lily Yeats) were part of the Arts and Crafts movement.

John Butler Yeats

A picture of John Butler Yeats who was W. B. Yeats father. He was an Irish artist and was know for his portrait paintings.

Jack Butler Yeats

A portrait of Jack Butler Yeats. He was W. B. Yeats brother. His paintings are well known.

A portrait of Jack Butler Yeats as a boy. He was an Irish artist.

Elizabeth Corbet (Lolly) Yeats

A picture of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats also known as Lolly Yeats. She was W. B. Yeats sister. This painting was done by John Butler Yeats.

Susan Mary (Lily) Yeats 

A painting of Susan Mary Yeats also known as Lily Yeats by John B. Yeats. She was W. B. Yeats sister.

A portrait of Susan Mary (Lily) Yeats.

The Yeats family are descended from well-known painter Jervis Yeats (d 1712), who was a Williamite soldier and linen merchant. In 1773, William's great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Yeats (Jervis's grandson) and married Mary Butler whose family had a landed estate in County Kildare. From this marriage, the family kept the name Butler.

Mary was descended from the Butler of Neigham (pronounced Nyam) Gowran family, who were descended from an illegitimate brother of the 8th Earl of Ormond.

WB Yeats' mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen, came from a wealthy merchant family in Sligo, who owned a milling and shipping business. John Yeats stated that "by marriage with a Pollexfen, we have given a tongue to the sea cliffs".

Susan Mary Pollexfen

A picture of Susan Mary Pollexfen who was William Butler Yeats mother.

In 1867, the family moved to England so that John, could further his career as an artist. WB Yeats spent his summers in the west of Ireland at the family house in Sligo. 

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In 1880, for financial reasons, the family returned to Dublin, living at first just south of the Liffey at Harold's Cross and later at Howth in north Co. Dublin. During this period WB Yeats started writing poetry, and, in 1885, Yeats's first poems were published. 

With his London and Dublin education, Yeats was very much part of London's fin de siècle and yet was active in societies that attempted an Irish literary revival.  His plays usually treat Irish legends; they also reflect his fascination with mysticism and spiritualism. The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King’s Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907) are among the best known. Together with Lady Gregory he founded the Irish Theatre, which was to become the Abbey Theatre, and served as its chief playwright until the movement was joined by John Synge.

Lady Gregory

A picture of Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory who was one of the founders of the Irish Theatre which later became the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland.

Abbey Theatre

A picture of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland.

John Millington Synge

A picture of John Millington Synge who was an Irish playwright.

The nationalist revival of the late 19th century directly disadvantaged his heritage and informed his outlook for the remainder of his life. Napoleon's dictum that to understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty "is manifestly true of WB Yeats" according to his biographer R. F. Foster [pub. 1997].

Napoleon Bonaparte

A picture of Napoleon Bonaparte.

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After 1910, Yeats’s dramatic art took a sharp turn toward a highly poetical, static, and esoteric style.  His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), made him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. 

In 1922 Yeats was appointed to the Irish Senate and in December 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation".  

On 28 January 1939, he died aged 73, at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France and was buried at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Yeats' express wish was that he be buried quickly in France with a minimum of fuss. "His actual words were 'If I die, bury me up there [at Roquebrune] and then in a year's time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo'."

In September 1948, Yeats's body was moved to the churchyard of St Columba's Church, Drumcliff, County Sligo. Yeats is commemorated in Sligo town by a statue by sculptor Ronan Gillespie. It was erected on the 50th anniversary of the poet's death in 1989, across the river from the Yeats Memorial Building (home to the Sligo Yeats Society).

William Butler Yeats Statue in Sligo

A picture of William Butler Yeats statue in Sligo, Ireland.

W. B. Yeats Statue in Dublin

A picture of William Butler Yeats statue in Sandymount Green Dublin, Ireland.

St Columba's Church

A picture of St Columba's Church in Drumcliff, Sligo, Ireland.

Yeats Memorial Building

A picture of Yeats Memorial Building in Sligo, Ireland. This is home to the Sligo Yeats Society.

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Additional Information
Date of Birth 13th Jun 1865 VIEW SOURCE
Date of Death 28th Jan 1939
Associated Building (s) Lissadell House  
Mother (First Name/s and Maiden) Susan Mary Pollexfen (13 Jul 1841 - 03 Jan 1900) Merville House, Sligo, Ireland
Father (First Name/s and Surname) John Butler Yeats (16 Mar 1839 - 03 Feb 1922) of Lawrencetown, Tullylish, Co. Down, Ireland
Townland born 1 George Ville, Sandymount Strand, Co. Dublin VIEW SOURCE
Names of Siblings Susan Mary "Lilly" Yeats (1866-1948) | Elizabeth Corbet "Lolly" Yeats (1868-1940) | Robert Corbet Yeats (1870-73) | John Butler Yeats aka Jack B Yeats (1871-1957)
Spouse (First Name/s and Maiden/Surname) Bertha "Georgie" Hyde-Lee (1892-1968)
Place & Date of Marriage
Names of Children Anne Yeats (1919-2001) | Michael Butler Yeats (1921-2007)
Occupation Poet and playwright | Irish Senator
Place of Death Cannes, France
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References

Ireland

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