April A to Z: Y is for Yeats

By Niall McArdle



Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats died seventy-five years ago in 1939.

Born in Dublin in 1865, he was one of the driving forces of the Irish Literary Revival. He co-founded the Abbey Theatre. In 1923 he became the first Irishman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (the others are Shaw, Beckett and Heaney.)

His poetry has been described as modernist, symbolist, abstract, mystical, and apocalyptic, encompassing themes that are both specific to the Irish experience and to a metaphysical view of humanity`s relation to the universe and Time.


For much of his life Yeats was inspired by – and in love with – the nationalist and feminist leader Maud Gonne.

Leda and the Swan

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                    Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?


He proposed to his muse four times; after the final rejection Yeats proposed to her daughter Iseult. In 1917 he married Georgiana Hyde-Leeds.


Yeats is buried in Drumcliff, Co, Sligo, in the place that inspired much of his poetry. The epitaph on his headstone is taken from “Under Ben Bulben“.

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

3 thoughts on “April A to Z: Y is for Yeats

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