June 13th: William Butler Yeats

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” ― William Butler Yeats

Yeats was an incredibly versatile writer, producing poetry, prose, essays, and plays, and was the first Irishman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.” He was also co-founder and director of the Abbey Theatre, which would later become Ireland’s national theatre. Yeats was very interested in occultism, spiritualism, myths and legends of Ireland in particular. These served as inspiration for his works, as did English writers such as Shelley, Spenser, Blake, and Wilde, and his great, although unrequited, love Maud Gonne. Maud Gonne was a well-known Irish nationalist, suffragette, actress and model for Cathleen ni Houlihan – the protagonist in the play by the same name written by Yeats and Lady Gregory. As the play explores Irish nationalism and patriotism, Gonne fittingly played the role of Cathleen. However, Yeats never really stood behind the nationalistic ideals and even actively questioned his own play in one of his poems: “Did that play of mine send out | Certain men the English shot?” (Man and the Echo) Unlike many modernist poets, who wrote in free verse, Yeats kept to the more traditional style. His poem Down by the Salley Gardens (inspired by a song he heard an old woman sing) now belongs to Irish folk music and it is definitely worth listening to it.

So let’s lift our glasses and drink to this brilliant writer. HAPPY BIRTHDAY W.B.!