W.B. Yeats (1865-1939): A Great Poet.
William Butler Yeats is a prominent poet of the 20th century. He was an Irish poet and playwright. His poetry is widely read today across the English speaking world. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.
William Butler Yeats was born on 13th June 1865 in Dublin, Ireland. His family was a prestigious Irish Protestant. His father was a law expert. He was a popular portrait painter too. Yeats was educated in London and in Dublin. His first volume of verse appeared in 1887. His popularity rests on his lyric achievement. His poetry made him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English.
No doubt, Yeats was a prolific writer. His chief poetic works are- The Wild Swans at Coole, Michael Robartes and the Dancer, The Tower, The Winding Stair, Last Poems and Two Plays, Easter 1916, Leda and the Swan, Responsibilities, Sailing to Byzantium, The Green Helmet, The Second Coming, The Wanderings of Oisin, A Full Moon in March and Among School Children.
Yeats has an infallible reputation as a playwright too. He composed several rich romantic plays. Together with Lady Gregory he founded the Irish Theatre. Later on it became popular as the Abbey Theatre. Yeats served as its chief playwright until this movement was joined by John Synge. His plays usually deal with Irish legends. They also reflect his fascination for mysticism and spiritualism. The Countess Cathleen, The Land of Heart’s Desire, The Shadowy Waters, Cathleen ni Houlihan, The Hour Glass, The King’s Threshold, Four Plays for Dancers and Deirdre are his best known plays.
W.B. Yeats contributed a lot to the development of English literature. He was influenced by Indian philosophy. In his old age he came in contact with the great Indian mystic named Purohit Swami. Yeats helped him to translate the Upnishads and Patanjali’s Yogsutra. W.B. Yeats himself composed several poems under the influence of Indian philosophy, especially of The Bhagvadgita. He died on January 28, 1939 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France.
Yeats’s poetry was remarkably varied in subject matter. In the first phase of his poetic career (1882-1907) his poetry is romantic and imaginative. It is decorative. During this phase Yeats wrote under the influence of the romantic and Pre-Raphaelite poets. He wrote lyrics like romantics and his theme was love and loveliness. That is why he has been called ‘the last of the Romantics’. The poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree is a good example of this period.
The period of 1907-1917 can be considered as the second phase of his poetic career. In this phase his poetry appears as antithesis of his early work. The poems of this period are simple, realistic and satirical. During the third period (1917-1928), Yeats appears as a mystic. Indian thought influenced his mysticism. He was a visionary by temperament. He felt himself detached in a world dominated by materialism, industrialization, rationalism, science and technology. He was acutely conscious of the spiritual barrenness of his age. He tried to revive the primitive impulses of human life. During the final period (1928-1939) Yeats’s poetry became prophetic.
W. B. Yeats is regarded as one of the chief exponents of the symbolist movement in England. He employs simple and elementary symbols in his early poetry. But in his later poetry his symbols became very complex. His well-known symbols are the rose, the moon, the swan, the tower, the winding stair, and Byzantium. Yeats was an accomplished poetic artist. His poetic art and his mastery of language grew steadily throughout his career. He skillfully used the traditional verse forms. Sometimes he modified it according to his need. No doubt, the music of his verse is of the highest quality. He used his words with calculated effect.
In short, Yeats is the most remarkable poetic genius in English of his time. He has played a historical role in the development of English poetry.