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Yeats, William Butler. (1865 - 1939).

P o e t r y

- creates his own symbolic system of mystical or quasi-mystical ideas 

- characterized by coherence of imagery, power of vision, passionate sensuality, and often violent sexuality

P h a s e  1 ,  R o m a n t i c i s m :

- uses precise natural imagery, heroic themes, and Irish folklore

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”:

- controls the handling of the imagery to achieve a haunting quality

P h a s e  2 ,  N a t i o n a l i s m :

< influenced by Augusta Gregory and his stay in her house Coole Park

- co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre (1899 - 1901), actively participated in play production, and made pronouncements on public controversies

The Wild Swans at Coole (1919) and Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1821):

- combines the colloquial and the formal, adds a metaphysical element

P h a s e  3 ,  S y m b o l i s t - M e t a p h y s i c a l  P o e t r y :

- subject matter: revolutionary politics x personal regret, ideal past x prophecy, agony of ageing x celebration of cultural history

The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1933):

- uses the recurrent symbol of winding stairs and spirals of all kinds, e.g. to indicate a journey up a spiral staircase, both repetitious and progressive


- presents a series of contraries: dialogues between soul x heart, the public domain of the soldier x the withdrawal of the meditating saint, etc.

“Leda and the Swan”:

- a tense sonnet on the rape of Leda by Zeus disguised as a swan and the long-term consequences of the rape in the ruin of Troy and the murder of Agamemnon

D r a m a :

- national drama: draws on Irish traditions, provides focus for nationalism

- poetical legendary drama: uses ‘only symbolic and decorative setting’,  turns away from the ‘common realities’

The Countess Kathleen (1892):

- a nationalist folklore play, inaugurated the Irish Literary Theatre

‘The Cuchulain Sequence’: On Baile’s Strand (1903), At the Hawk’s Well (1916), and The Death of Cuchulain (1939):

- a sequence of plays based on the symbolic patterns of the Japanese Noh drama, concerned with the ancient hero Cuchulain

- an increasingly innovative symbolic and ritual drama using light effects, masks, dance, music, etc.


(Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

  • Author

    William Butler Yeats. (1865 - 1939). Irish.
  • Work

    Poet. Playwright. The leading figure of the Irish Literary Revival. Nobel Prize winner (1923).
  • Genres

    Romanticism. Symbolism. Mysticism. Metaphysical poetry. Poetic drama. Nationalism.


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Baugh, Albert C. ed. A Literary History of England. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967.

Coote, Stephen. The Penguin Short History of English Literature. London: Penguin, 1993.

Sampson, George. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1946.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.


"Between extremities / Man runs his course; / A brand, or flaming breath, / Comes to destroy / All those antinomies / Of day and night."

From "Vacillation".


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