William Butler Yeats

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William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865 - 28 January 1939)

Yeats, an Irish poet and dramatist who became one of best-known figures in 20th-century literature, was born in Sandymount, County Dublin, Ireland. He was the son of Susan Mary Pollexfen and John Butler Yeats, a lawyer and painter who was a descendant of Jervis Yeats, a Williamite soldier and linen merchant who died in 1712.

Yeats was educated at schools in London and Dublin. First becoming an art student, then an author, in 1888 he published The Wanderings of Oisin, a long narrative poem that established his reputation.

The Celtic Twilight, a book of peasant legends, appeared in 1893.

His three most popular plays were The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart's Desire (1894), and Cathleen ni Houlihan (1903). He wrote other plays for the Abbey Theatre, which he helped to found in 1904.

In Responsibilities (1914), he wrote about contemporary subjects. The symbolic system described in A Vision (1925) tells many of his best-known poems, which appeared in The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair (1929), and A Full Moon in March (1935). His Collected Poems was published in 1950.

In 1923 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and he was a senator of the Irish Free State (1922-1928).

According to biographer R. F. Foster in W. B. Yeats: A Life (2 volumes), including Michael Valdez Moses's "The Poet As Politician"' in Reason (February 2001),

Towards the end of his life - and especially after the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression, which led some to question whether democracy would be able to cope with deep economic difficulty - Yeats seems to have returned to his aristocratic sympathies. During the aftermath of the First World War, he became skeptical about the efficacy of democratic government, and anticipated political reconstruction in Europe through totalitarian rule. His later association with Pound drew him towards Mussolini, for whom he expressed admiration on a number of occasions. He wrote three "marching songs" - never used - for the Irish General Eoin O'Duffy's Blueshirts. However, when Pablo Neruda invited him to visit Madrid in 1937, Yeats responded with a letter supporting the Republic against Fascism, and he distanced himself from Nazism and Fascism in the last years of his life.
Yeats, who suffered many illnesses for many years, died in Menton, France, at the Hotel Ideal Sejour. He was buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Yeats and his Uncle George Pollexfenhad often discussed his death, and his express wish was to be buried quickly in France with a minimum of fuss. According to George "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 Drumcliffe, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette L.E. Macha. A member of the Church of Ireland, which is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion,is epitaph is taken from the last lines of "Under Ben Bulben", one of his final poems:

Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by.