pronounced yayts, William Butler (1865-1939), an Irish poet and dramatist, won the 1923
Nobel Prize for literature. Many critics consider him the greatest poet of his time. Yeats
led the Irish Literary Revival, a movement of the late 1800's and early 1900's that
stimulated new appreciation of traditional Irish literature. The movement also encouraged
the creation of works written in the spirit of Irish culture, as distinct from English
Yeats developed elaborate theories about history as a recurring cycle of events. He
expressed his views about history and life through the use of old Irish tales and the
facts and legends of Irish history. His views also reflect his belief in the supernatural.
Yeats published his theories in A Vision (1925), a book that can help with the
interpretation of some of his more difficult poems.
Yeats was born in Dublin and lived in London for part of his childhood. He spent many
holidays in Sligo, a county in western Ireland that he loved and often wrote about. In
1898, he joined the authors Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn in establishing the Irish
Literary Theatre. It was reorganized in 1904 as the Abbey Theatre, which became world
The Irish Literary Theatre was founded partly to support Irish nationalism by encouraging
the writing and production of plays about Irish life. The theater performed most of
Yeats's 26 plays, and he served until his death as one of the directors who managed the
institution. The theater's first production was Yeats's The Countess Cathleen, written in
1891. This play was inspired in part by the author's love for Maud Gonne, a beautiful
Irish nationalist leader. She became the subject of many of his plays and love lyrics.
Yeats's verse, unlike that of most poets, improved as he grew older. He wrote much of his
best work in the last 10 years of his life. His most important works were published in
Collected Plays (1952) and The Poems: A New Edition (1984). Memoirs, containing
autobiographical writings, was published in 1973.