On June 13 1865 William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin Ireland. From the start Yeats had artistic influences, due to the fact that his father Jack Butler Yeats was a noted Irish painter. He had no formal education until he was eleven, at that time he started at the Godolphin Grammar School in Hammer*censored*h England and later he enrolled in Erasmus Smith High School in Dublin.
Throughout his schooling he was considered disappointing student, his studies were inconsistent, he was prone to day dreaming, and poor at sports. In 1884 Yeats found his way to the Metropolitan School for the Arts, here he met a poet by the name of George Russell. Yeats and Russell sheared the same dreams, visions, and the enthusiasm for them.
Russell and Yeats soon founded the Dublin Hermetic Society for the purpose of conducting magical experiments. They promoted their idea that ?whatever great poets had affirmed in there finest moments was the nearest we could come to an authoritative religion and that their mythology and their spirits of wind and water were but literal truth.? This sparked Yeats’s interest in the study of the occult. After his experience in the hermetic society he joined the Rosicrucians, Madam H.P. Blavavtsky’s Theosophical Society, and MacGregors Mather’s Order of the Dawn.
Yeats consulted spiritualists frequently and engaged in the ritual of conjuring the Irish Gods. The occult research Yeats made was apparent in his poetry. The occult was a source of images to use in his poems, and evedence of this is in all of his works.
In1885 Yeats met John O’Leary an Irish Nationalist and Fenian leader. O’Leary played a large role on getting Yeats’s his work first published in The Dublin University Review and directing Yeats’s attention to native Irish sources for inspiration. The influence of O’Leary caused Yeats to take up the Irish writer’s cause.
England was trying to destroy all Irish literature in an attempt to anglicize Ireland through a ban on the Gaelic language. O’Leary’s nationalism and opposition to violence impressed many people including Yeats. These views helped shape political views that Yeats would hold for the rest of his life.
In 1889Yeats met Maude Gonne, a woman he loved unrequitedly for the rest of his life. Yeats asked Gonne to marry him many times but she always turned him down. Gonne was an Irish patriot and an inspiration to Yeats. Yeats frequently accompanied here to political rallies even though he usually disagreed with her extremist tactics. Their relationship went through a lot including Gonne’s short-lived marrige to John McBride. Most of Yeats’s poetry is addressed to her. Yeats associated her with Helen of Troy, whose capriciousness led to the destruction of a civilization.
In 1986 Yeats became friends with Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory, a nationalist playwright. Together Yeats and Lady Gregory helped to found the Abbey Theater. As the director and dramatist Yeats helped to turn it into a leading theatrical company of the world and a center of the Irish Renaissance.
Near the Turn of the century Yeats fought to abandon his old style of writing, at this time his writing became less mystical and symbolic and it became clearer.
Yeats eventually got married in 1917, at the age of 52. His wife was Georgie Hyde-Lees, while on their honeymoon she discovered that she had mediumistic abilities. Through automatic writing she could communicate with a visionary realm.
In Yeats’s later years he became more involved in politics. From 1922 ? 1928 he was a senator for the Irish Free State. In 1923 Yeats received the Nobel Prize for literature, and died on January 18 1939 in Roquebrune France. Yeats was buried in Sligo Ireland.
A Drunken Mans Praise of Sobriety
Come swish around my pretty punk
And keep me dancing still
That I may stay a sober man
Although I drank my fill.
Sobriety is a jewel
That I do much adore,
And therefore keep dancing
Though drunkards lie and snore.
O mind your feet, O mind your feet
Keep dancing like a wave,
And under every dancer
A dead man in his grave.
No ups no downs, my Pretty,
A mermaid not a punk;
A drunkard is a dead man
And all dead men are drunk.
This is a lyrical poem, which Yeats wrote in 1938. The title sounds like it’s a poem about a recovering alcoholic, but it seems that the person that Yeats is talking about is drunk. It also appears that he is such an alcoholic that he is drinking to feel normal.
The line ?Sobriety is a jewel? leads me to believe that sobriety is a goal. The use of the word jewel leads me to believe that it is a goal that is hard to achieve. The following line ?That I do much adore;? makes me believe that he wants to achieve his goal very badly.
The repetitive talk of keeping him dancing could have two meanings. The first one is he is talking to himself or another person to keep him away from the bar and getting a drink. The other meaning could be that he is talking to a drink and keeps just to continue dancing and avoid passing out.
As a whole the poem is a bout a man drunk off his ass realizing that he has a problem. Saying that a drunk is dead makes me think that he actually realizes how bad alcohol is, but that could just be the modern day values of society that I know.
The Old Men admiring Themselves in the Water
I herd the old, old men say.
And one by one we drop away.’
They had hands like claws, and knees
Were twisted like old thorn-trees
By the waters.
I herd the old, old men say,
?All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.’
This poem was written some time between 1904 and 1910, at this time Yeats would have been between 39 and 45 years old. When Yeats wrote this he probably started to see changes in himself, and when he saw old men he realized how close he was to becoming one of them himself. Because of the subject, I find it strange that e used a lyrical style of writing.
To a Squirrel at Kyle-na-no
Come play with me;
Why should you run
Through the shaking tree
As though I’d a gun
To strike you dead?
When all I would do
Is scratch your head
And let you go.
Yeats wrote this poem between 1919 and 1928. I think that this poem has more meaning than just wanting to play with a squirrel. At the time it was written there was some major industrialization going on, so that leads me to believe that the squirrel represents all of nature, and he is trying to enjoy nature.
The fact that the squirrel runs away shows that nature knows of mans destructiveness and it doesn’t trust man. What I think Yeats is trying to say is that he really doesn’t agree with industrialization, but again he uses a lyrical style.
The Poems of W.B. Yeats 1983