William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939
William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, playwright, and politician, was born on this day in 1865. One of the greatest literary figures of the 20th century, Yeats’ life and work straddle the great divide between Romanticism and Modernism. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.
In life and in art, Yeats rejected modern rationalism, materialism, and egalitarianism. He saw them as coarsening and brutalizing.
Spiritually, Yeats was drawn to mysticism and the occult, influenced in particular by Emanuel Swedenborg and William Blake. Politically, like so many great literary artists of the first half of the 20th century, Yeats was drawn to fascism. To learn more about Yeats’ life, art, and politics, see the following works on this site:
Share your favorite Yeats poems below.
An Irish airman foresees his death
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love:
My country is kiltartan cross,
My countrymen killtartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law nor duty bade me fight,
Nor publication men, Nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
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