Happy Birthday, W.B. Yeats


W.B. Yeats arriving in New York City for his American lecture tour, 1903. MSS 126 W.B. Yeats collection

Nobel-prize-winning poet and playwright William Butler Yeats was born on June 13, 1865, in Sandymount, Ireland.   A co-founder of the Irish Literary Revival and the Irish theatre movement, he was one of the founders of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre (est. 1904). Yeats is considered one of the most significant poets of the twentieth century.

Between May and September 1916, William Butler Yeats wrote what would become “Easter, 1916,” a poem that was not the ringing endorsement of republicanism many had hoped it would be (though it was interpreted as such). Despite his prominent role in the Gaelic Revival and establishment of the Abbey Theatre in the earlier part of the century, Yeats became increasingly disillusioned with radicalism. Irish historian and Yeats biographer R.F. Foster notes that “Easter, 1916” instead “emphasized not only the bewildered and delusional state of the rebels, but it move[d] on to a plea for the flashing, changing joy of life rather than the harsh stone of fanatical opinion fixed in the effluvial stream.”

Cover of W.B. Yeats's Easter, 1916

Yeats, William Butler. Easter, 1916. London: Privately printed by Clement Shorter, 1916. One of 25 copies.


More on W.B. Yeats (and the Yeats family) at UD:

W.B. Yeats collection

Mark Samuels Lasner collection

Jack B. Yeats correspondence

“A terrible beauty is born”: The Easter Rising at 100 exhibition

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