William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939


Biographical note

Irish poet and dramatist and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival, and founded the Abbey Theatre, and served as its chief during its early years. In 1923, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature for what the Nobel Committee described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation;" and he was the first Irishman so honored. Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers whose greatest works were completed after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower [1928] and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929].

Yeats was born and educated in Dublin, but spent his childhood in County Sligo. He studied poetry in his youth, and from an early age was fascinated by both Irish legends and the occult. Those topics feature in the first phase of his work, which lasted roughly until the turn of the century. His earliest volume of verse was published in 1889, and those slowly paced and lyrical poems display debts to Edmund Spenser and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as to the lyricism of the Pre-Raphaelite poets.

From 1900, Yeats' poetry grew more physical and realistic. He largely renounced the transcendental beliefs of his youth, though he remained preoccupied with physical and spiritual masks, as well as with cyclical theories of life. Over the years, Yeats adopted many different ideological positions, including, in the words of the critic Michael Valdez Moses, "those of radical nationalist, classical liberal, reactionary conservative and millenarian nihilist".


Collections of poetry

  • The Wanderings of Oisin and other poems [1889]
    includes "The Wanderings of Oisin", "The Song of the Happy Shepherd", "The Stolen Child" and "Down By The Salley Gardens"
  • The Countess Kathleen and various legends and lyrics [1893]
    includes "The Lake Isle of Innisfree", first published in the National Observer, 13 December 1890.
    (Lyrics from this book appear in Yeats' collected editions in a section titled "The Rose" [1893] but Yeats never published a book titled "The Rose".)
  • The Wind Among the Reeds [1899]
  • In The Seven Woods: being poems chiefly of the Irish Heroic Age [Dun Emer Press, 1903]
    includes "Adam's Curse"
  • The Green Helmet, and other poems [1910]
  • Poems: Second Series [1910]
  • Responsibilities; and other poems / illustrated by Thomas Sturge Moore [1916]
  • The Wild Swans at Coole [1919]
    a significant revision of the 1917 edition: has the poems from the 1917 edition and others, including "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" and "The Phases of the Moon"; contains: "The Wild Swans at Coole", "Ego Dominus Tuus", "The Scholars" and "On being asked for a War Poem" [1919]
  • Michael Robartes and the Dancer [1921]
  • The Tower [1928]
    includes Sailing to Byzantium
  • The Death of Synge, and Other Passages from an Old Diary[1928]
  • A Packet for Ezra Pound, poems [1929]
  • The Winding Stair [published by Fountain Press in a signed limited edition, now exceedingly rare, 1929]
  • Words for Music Perhaps, and other poems [1932]
  • Collected Poems [1933]
  • The Winding Stair and Other Poems [1933]
  • The King of the Great Clock Tower [1934]
  • A Woman Young and Old [1933]
  • From a Full Moon in March [1935]
  • New Poems [1938]
  • Last Poems [1939]

Individual Poems

  • The Fiddler of Dooney
  • Love and Death
  • Mad as the Mist and Snow
  • Pardon, old fathers
  • Those Dancing Days Are Gone
  • Swift's Epitaph
  • Under Ben Bulben
  • Anthologised:
  • Yeats, W. B. "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "The Fiddler of Dooney" Harry Clarke (ill.]. The year's at the spring, 1920.





  • Introduction to Gitanjali [1913]
  • Letters to the new island.
  • The Letters of W. B. Yeats.
  • Explorations

© 2015 The University of Adelaide
CRICOS Provider Number 00123M