|William Butler Yeats, Ireland’s greatest poet and Nobel Prize Recipient, was born in 1865 and continued his after life through the pearly gates in 1939. Born in Dublin, at the tender age of two, Yeats was moved to Bedford Park, London where his father pursued his desire to be a Pre-Raphaelite painter. Living the nomadic lifestyle, the Yeats family moved again back to Dublin where William studied at the Metropolitan School of Art. Throughout his life, he was always fascinated by communicating with the dead, the supernatural world, and reincarnation. William entered the literary world in 1885 after publishing his first poems in the Dublin University Review. Once again moving to Bedford Park, London, Yeats devoted himself strictly to writing. A major impact and first love in his life was Maud Gonne, an actress and Irish Revolutionary. After marrying in 1903 to another man, she inspired one of Yeats greatest poems “No Second Troy” where he poured his emotions on paper voicing the impact Maud had on his life and not placing blame for her marrying another. Another interest in Yeats's life was folktales, which he explored with the intention to do his part for the revival of Celtic Identity. Yeats’s final move was back to Dublin where he formed the Irish Library Society to promote the New Irish Library. In 1897, Yeats met Isabella Augusta with whom he founded the Irish Literary Theater. Yeats worked as a director of the theater for the remainder of his life and even wrote several plays to include Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) and The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894). In early 1917 he purchased Thoor Ballyle, a derelict stone tower in Bedford Park, which he later restored, used as his summer home, and was a center piece for some of his later poetry. Later in 1917, he married Georgie Hyde-Lee. Even after marriage, Yeats never stopped involving himself with other organizations, “In 1932 Yeats founded the Irish Academy of Letters and in 1933 he was involved with the fascists Blueshirts in Dublin”. (Online-Literature 2) This shows Yeats dedication and loyalty to his country and beliefs. The Blueshirts were Ireland’s Fascist Group whose movement was known for their central role in the formation of Fine Gael, a constitutional alternative to the present constitution, Fianna Fail. Yeats was one of the few writers whose greatest works were completed after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. Two of these poems included in this category and are the focus of my research are “The Stolen Child” and “A Prayer for my Daughter”.
It was said that Yeats’s poetry was filled with imagery and symbolism that can be proven from the following quote from “The Stolen Child”, “Where dips the rocky highland Of Sleuth Wood in the lake, There lies a leafy island Where flapping herons wake The drowsy water-rats; There we’ve hid our faery vats, Full of berries and of reddest stolen cherries.” (Yeats 1) The visuals Yeats paints with his words gives the reader a colorful image of the scenery where the poem takes place. The symbolism of the “stolen” cherries relates to the would be “stolen” children of the poem. The entire scene is set for the reader to embark on the seductive ride Yeats has prepared. Another example of symbolism that rests in another one of Yeats poems, “A Prayer for my Daughter” is, “May she be granted beauty and yet not Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught, Or hers before a looking-glass, for such, Being made beautiful overmuch, Consider beauty a sufficient end. Lose natural kindness and maybe The heart-revealing intimacy That chooses right, and never find a friend.” (Yeats 1) The symbolism is plentiful here all throughout this verse. Whereas in “The Stolen Child” is heavier on the imagery, more symbolism resides in “A Prayer for my Daughter”. Both poems have similar themes. They both relate to bettering the welfare of a child thought the hook of “The Stolen Child” gives the impression of a negative concept, “Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” Of course, stealing a child from anyone does not paint a positive image, but the reasoning behind taking the children is a positive one. Like “The Stolen Child”, the betterment of the child’s future is the theme in “A Prayer for my Daughter”, “And may her bridegroom bring her to a house Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;” (Yeats 2) This line summarizes the father’s wishes for his daughter. He wishes her a life that she can look forward to. Both poems have similar techniques and styles. As seen above in the previous passages, there is rhyme and metaphors present in both poems that Yeats uses to sweeten the reading. This makes it more appealing to the reader to enjoy. In these two particular poems, Yeats’s concerns were of children and their well-being. From his writings to his impact he had on his country, let’s discover what Yeats did to leave his mark on Ireland and the rest of the Modern world.
A huge monumental figure in the earlier twentieth-century, Yeats was a pioneer in the transition from late Romanticism, which dominated English literature in the period between the two world wars to a more Modern style of literature. Yeats inspiration and devotion to Ireland widened throughout his lifetime, “While closely associated with Ireland and its turbulent political and social history, throughout his lifetime, Yeats developed, as a poet and a thinker, into a trenchant and memorable commentator on human life at large, in a creative career of poetry, drama and prose, extended over more than half a century.” (Literary Encyclopedia 1) Yeats involved himself so much in different aspects of his country that his impact reached wide and far and still does today which will be revealed as we continue. Now that we are aware of Yeats’s contribution to his country and era, some critics have different view points about his loyalties. Was he loyal to his country? Was he a postcolonial writer? Was he a fascist? Let’s explore these ideas and ideals and focus on these criticisms. Yeats seemed to have lived two individual lives. His poetry and other writings were dedicated to building up Irish culture and literature but his actions in his physical form were more of the extreme nature. In his older life, he flirted with fascist ideas when being involved with the Blueshirt Movement and was also involved as a member of the Anglo Irish Ascendancy which was Britain’s oldest eighteenth century colonial government. One critic, Seamus Deane has an internal conflict with himself when it comes to Yeats loyalties. In one essay he states that, “Yeats is inventing an Ireland amenable to his imagination.” (Literary History 3) He’s interpreting Yeats’s actions as one who is writing about his country by his own imagination and not what it really is to be. But his thoughts of Yeats in another essay states, “a more profoundly political dramatist than O’Casey, that it is in his plays that we find a search for the new form of feeling which would renovate our national consciousness.” (Literary History 3,4) Now, Deane is applauding Yeats works as a revival for Ireland. It almost seems that Deane has mixed criticisms about Yeats and his loyalties. He’s playing for both sides of the team. Another critic, Edward Said, offers Yeats as an, “indisputably great national poet who during a period of anti-imperialist resistance articulates the experiences, the restorative vision of a people suffering under the domination of an offshore power.” (Literary History 4) Here we have a critic who sets a standard using what Yeats has accomplished. Unlike Deane’s viewpoint, Said is completely flawless and sure of his criticism of William Butler Yeats. Here we have two different criticisms of W.B. Yeats during his times, both positive and negative. It’s always good to see the different views of someone before coming to a decision for yourself. One may spark a feeling that you may have not thought of which may change your view point about the subject. But so what? So what Yeats made a mark in history? That was over a hundred years ago. Why do we care now? Why do we still read his writings? Why are his plays still used today in Universities and High Schools around the world?
Some writers write for the glory and the fame. Some write because that’s what they are expected to do. And then you have writers like William Butler Yeats who writes because that’s who he is…he’s a writer. He wanted to make an impact on his people during his time and it’s something he devoted his life doing. He never expected, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that his works would be around in the 21 century. Let alone be still so widely used. His writings have power and meaning that spans across the centuries. Even today, we use his writings to base our understanding on writers and the times of his era. It’s writers like W. B. Yeats that allow us to have a history. Without his works, how would we know what life was like then? We wouldn’t.