William Butler Yeats, Ireland’s greatest poet and Nobel Prize Recipient,

William Butler Yeats, Ireland’s greatest poet and Nobel Prize Recipient,
was born in 1865 and continued his after life through the pearly gates in 1939.
Born in Dublin, at the tender age of two, Yeats was moved to Bedford Park,
London where his father pursued his desire to be a Pre-Raphaelite painter.
Living the nomadic lifestyle, the Yeats family moved again back to Dublin where
William studied at the Metropolitan School of Art. Throughout his life, he was
always fascinated by communicating with the dead, the supernatural world, and
reincarnation. William entered the literary world in 1885 after publishing his first
poems in the Dublin University Review. Once again moving to Bedford Park,
London, Yeats devoted himself strictly to writing. A major impact and first love
in his life was Maud Gonne, an actress and Irish Revolutionary. After marrying
in 1903 to another man, she inspired one of Yeats greatest poems “No Second
Troy” where he poured his emotions on paper voicing the impact Maud had on
his life and not placing blame for her marrying another. Another interest in
Yeats's life was folktales, which he explored with the intention to do his part for
the revival of Celtic Identity. Yeats’s final move was back to Dublin where he
formed the Irish Library Society to promote the New Irish Library. In 1897, Yeats
met Isabella Augusta with whom he founded the Irish Literary Theater. Yeats
worked as a director of the theater for the remainder of his life and even wrote
several plays to include Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) and The Land of Heart’s
Desire (1894). In early 1917 he purchased Thoor Ballyle, a derelict stone tower in
Bedford Park, which he later restored, used as his summer home, and was a
center piece for some of his later poetry. Later in 1917, he married Georgie HydeLee. Even after marriage, Yeats never stopped involving himself with other
organizations, “In 1932 Yeats founded the Irish Academy of Letters and in 1933
he was involved with the fascists Blueshirts in Dublin”. (Online-Literature 2)
This shows Yeats dedication and loyalty to his country and beliefs. The
Blueshirts were Ireland’s Fascist Group whose movement was known for their
central role in the formation of Fine Gael, a constitutional alternative to the
present constitution, Fianna Fail. Yeats was one of the few writers whose greatest
works were completed after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in
1923. Two of these poems included in this category and are the focus of my
research are “The Stolen Child” and “A Prayer for my Daughter”.
It was said that Yeats’s poetry was filled with imagery and symbolism that
can be proven from the following quote from “The Stolen Child”, “Where dips the
rocky highland Of Sleuth Wood in the lake, There lies a leafy island Where
flapping herons wake The drowsy water-rats; There we’ve hid our faery vats, Full
of berries and of reddest stolen cherries.” (Yeats 1) The visuals Yeats paints with
his words gives the reader a colorful image of the scenery where the poem takes
place. The symbolism of the “stolen” cherries relates to the would be “stolen”
children of the poem. The entire scene is set for the reader to embark on the
seductive ride Yeats has prepared. Another example of symbolism that rests in
another one of Yeats poems, “A Prayer for my Daughter” is, “May she be granted
beauty and yet not Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught, Or hers before a
looking-glass, for such, Being made beautiful overmuch, Consider beauty a
sufficient end. Lose natural kindness and maybe The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.” (Yeats 1) The symbolism is plentiful
here all throughout this verse. Whereas in “The Stolen Child” is heavier on the
imagery, more symbolism resides in “A Prayer for my Daughter”. Both poems
have similar themes. They both relate to bettering the welfare of a child thought
the hook of “The Stolen Child” gives the impression of a negative concept, “Come
away, O human child! To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, For
the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” Of course, stealing a
child from anyone does not paint a positive image, but the reasoning behind
taking the children is a positive one. Like “The Stolen Child”, the betterment of
the child’s future is the theme in “A Prayer for my Daughter”, “And may her
bridegroom bring her to a house Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;” (Yeats 2)
This line summarizes the father’s wishes for his daughter. He wishes her a life
that she can look forward to. Both poems have similar techniques and styles. As
seen above in the previous passages, there is rhyme and metaphors present in
both poems that Yeats uses to sweeten the reading. This makes it more appealing
to the reader to enjoy. In these two particular poems, Yeats’s concerns were of
children and their well-being. From his writings to his impact he had on his
country, let’s discover what Yeats did to leave his mark on Ireland and the rest of
the Modern world.
A huge monumental figure in the earlier twentieth-century, Yeats was a
pioneer in the transition from late Romanticism, which dominated English
literature in the period between the two world wars to a more Modern style of
literature. Yeats inspiration and devotion to Ireland widened throughout his
lifetime, “While closely associated with Ireland and its turbulent political and
social history, throughout his lifetime, Yeats developed, as a poet and a thinker,
into a trenchant and memorable commentator on human life at large, in a
creative career of poetry, drama and prose, extended over more than half a
century.” (Literary Encyclopedia 1) Yeats involved himself so much in different
aspects of his country that his impact reached wide and far and still does today
which will be revealed as we continue. Now that we are aware of Yeats’s
contribution to his country and era, some critics have different view points about
his loyalties. Was he loyal to his country? Was he a postcolonial writer? Was he
a fascist? Let’s explore these ideas and ideals and focus on these criticisms.
Yeats seemed to have lived two individual lives. His poetry and other
writings were dedicated to building up Irish culture and literature but his actions
in his physical form were more of the extreme nature. In his older life, he flirted
with fascist ideas when being involved with the Blueshirt Movement and was also
involved as a member of the Anglo Irish Ascendancy which was Britain’s oldest
eighteenth century colonial government. One critic, Seamus Deane has an
internal conflict with himself when it comes to Yeats loyalties. In one essay he
states that, “Yeats is inventing an Ireland amenable to his imagination.” (Literary
History 3) He’s interpreting Yeats’s actions as one who is writing about his
country by his own imagination and not what it really is to be. But his thoughts
of Yeats in another essay states, “a more profoundly political dramatist than
O’Casey, that it is in his plays that we find a search for the new form of feeling
which would renovate our national consciousness.” (Literary History 3,4) Now,
Deane is applauding Yeats works as a revival for Ireland. It almost seems that
Deane has mixed criticisms about Yeats and his loyalties. He’s playing for both
sides of the team. Another critic, Edward Said, offers Yeats as an, “indisputably
great national poet who during a period of anti-imperialist resistance articulates
the experiences, the restorative vision of a people suffering under the domination
of an offshore power.” (Literary History 4) Here we have a critic who sets a
standard using what Yeats has accomplished. Unlike Deane’s viewpoint, Said is
completely flawless and sure of his criticism of William Butler Yeats. Here we
have two different criticisms of W.B. Yeats during his times, both positive and
negative. It’s always good to see the different views of someone before coming to
a decision for yourself. One may spark a feeling that you may have not thought of
which may change your view point about the subject. But so what? So what
Yeats made a mark in history? That was over a hundred years ago. Why do we
care now? Why do we still read his writings? Why are his plays still used today
in Universities and High Schools around the world?
Some writers write for the glory and the fame. Some write because that’s
what they are expected to do. And then you have writers like William Butler
Yeats who writes because that’s who he is…he’s a writer. He wanted to make an
impact on his people during his time and it’s something he devoted his life doing.
He never expected, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that his works would be
around in the 21 century. Let alone be still so widely used. His writings have
power and meaning that spans across the centuries. Even today, we use his
writings to base our understanding on writers and the times of his era. It’s
writers like W. B. Yeats that allow us to have a history. Without his works, how
would we know what life was like then? We wouldn’t.