William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet, dramatist, prose writer, and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and became a pillar of the Irish literary establishment who helped to found the Abbey Theatre, and in his later years served two terms as a Senator of the Irish Free State. William Butler Yeats was born on June 13, 1865, in Dublin, Ireland. He was the oldest of four children of John Butler Yeats, a portrait artist. He was educated in London but returned to Ireland in 1880 and soon afterward embarked on a literary career. In 1890, Yeats began writing plays, and as a strong adherent of the Irish National Movement, he did much to assist in the creation of national theatre. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
Yeats was acutely conscious of the spiritual barrenness of his age, and his whole artistic career is best seen as an attempt, at first to escape from the sordid materialism which he found on every hand, and later to formulate a new positive ideal that would supply his spiritual needs. His narrative poem The Wanderings of Oisin (1889), which first established his reputation, Poems (1895), The Wind Among the Reeds (1889), and The Shadowy Waters (1900); and it was in these early days that he wrote many of the lyrics. Probably the best known of them is The Lake Isle of Innisfree (1893). The increasing realism of this period is seen in The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910) and Responsibilities (1914), which strike a more personal note. The peak of his achievements is reached in The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), in which he handles philosophical themes with a compact precision of style and a great mastery of rhythm and language.
William Butler Yeats was also a prolific playwright, with no less than twenty-four dramas, two adaptations from Sophocles, and several unpublished juvenile efforts to his credit. The virtues of his plays are in their poetry. For him, his themes were always of primary importance, and there is a close parallel between the subjects of his lyrics and those of his plays. His characters, too, were drawn from Irish legend and from among those simple types to be found in so many of his poems. His plays include Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), The Shadowy Waters (1900), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), On Baile’s Strand (1904), The king’s Threshold (1904), The Hour-glass (1904), Deirdre (1907), The Resurrection (1913), At the Hawk’s Well (1917), The Only Jealousy of Emer (1919) Calvary (1921), and The Cat and The Moon (1926).
Yeats died in January 1939 while abroad. Final arrangements for his burial in Ireland could not be made, so he was buried at Roquebrune, France. The intention of having his body buried in Sligo was thwarted when World War II began in the autumn of 1939. In 1948 his body was finally taken back to Sligo and buried in a little Protestant churchyard at Drumcliffe.