Yeats Day is being celebrated in Sligo today with a feast of events to mark the annual celebration of the Nobel Prize Winning Poet WB Yeats. William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865 - 28 January 1939), although born and educated in Dublin, spent his long summer childhood holidays with his grandfather in County Sligo and has become closely associated with the county ever since.
WB Yeats is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century and was instrumental in the Irish Literary revival and helped found the Abbey Theatrem, along with Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932). He was the first Irish recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923 and was described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation."
His father John Butler Yeats was an artist and WB Yeats was therefore brought up in very artistic family surroundings. From an early age he appreciated and studied poetry and became extremely interested in Irish mythology from the folktales and legends his mother introduced him to. He pursued his own interests in the arts and he enrolled Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin for two years. It was during this time that some of his first poems were published in the Dublin University Review.
The Yeats family then moved back to London but he continued to visit Sligo every summer and his longing and love for Ireland can be seen in many of his works from this time such as 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree'
"I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core."
It was in 1889 he met Maud Gonne who was to become his main muse and he proposed to her four times between 1891 and 1901. She inspired many of his plays: The Countess Cathleen, Cathleen Ní Houlihan and was referenced in may of his poems as 'the Rose', 'Helen of Troy', The Ledaean Body, Deirdre, and Pallas Athene. A beauiful excerpt from 'Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven 'also references Gonne:
"I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."
His last proposal to Gonne was in 1916.
He met friend and patron Lady Gregory in 1894 and thus began their involvement with the Abbey Theatre (formerly known as The Irish Literary Theatre). Yeats was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. He was aware of the symbolic value of an Irish winner so soon after Ireland had gained independence, and sought to highlight the fact at each available opportunity. His reply to many of the letters of congratulations sent to him contained the words: "I consider that this honour has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature, it is part of Europe's welcome to the Free State." Yeats used the occasion of his acceptance lecture at the Royal Academy of Sweden to present himself as a standard-bearer of Irish nationalism and Irish cultural independence. As he remarked, "The theatres of Dublin were empty buildings hired by the English travelling companies, and we wanted Irish plays and Irish players. When we thought of these plays we thought of everything that was romantic and poetical, because the nationalism we had called up—the nationalism every generation had called up in moments of discouragement—was romantic and poetical." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._B._Yeats#Nobel_Prize)
His irrefutable link to Sligo is well recognised. Yeats died in 1939 in France but it was Drumcliff that became his final resting place. His epitaph took the last lines of his poem 'Under Ben Bulben'. (Ben Bulben is a large rock formation in Sligo which overlooks Yeats' family home in Sligo. )
"Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by! "
You can find out moree about Yeats Day at YeatsDay.com
The National Library of Ireland presents The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats - An Online Exhibition
An excerpt of this article was taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._B._Yeats under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License;