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Research Paper on William Butler Yeats

Essay Topic:
The Irish Rebellion of 1641, his mother reading Irish folktales to him as a child, and William Blake’s use of fiction influenced William Butler Yeats to write “The Curse of the Fire and the Shadows”. Yeats is a huge part of 20th century English and Irish literature and one of the most important writers that started the “Irish Literary Revival” and was responsible for starting a his own literary club called “The Rhymers Club”. In addition to being a great poet Yeats was always prominent in writing short stories and plays.
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One of Yeats’ individual characteristics is his split sense of certain situations. He was very spiritual and yet managed to cling to a skeptical sense of artistic detachment. His beliefs were deeply torn between his interest in mysticism and the inner workings of the universe to his faith in god and his spiritual being. Yeats was a man deeply seeded in the people around him. This being a lot of the subjects in all of his writing, Yeats also wrote about love, the mind, spirituality, mysticism, fiction, reality, war, and even sometimes flirted with idea of fascism.

Being born and raised in Ireland Yeats identified with the people and their struggles against England but he didn’t agree with their passiveness and throughout life he had attempted to improve the situation by political means. Although a lot of the conflict had been settled through war, like the Irish Rebellion of 1641. The Irish Rebellion was fought between the catholic Irish rebels and the English and Scottish Protestants that controlled the area. The conflict arose when some Irish Catholics attempted a coup to overthrow the English administration. Their goal was to force them to allow the Catholics their basic religious rights.

Although their coup failed it was the spark that started the Irish Rebellion of 1641 also known as the Irish confederate wars. A war that lasted from 1641 to 1649 and was fought in Ireland itself. The Irish fought with only about 5,000 soldiers against England’s army of 19,000. Despite the obvious advantage the English held, the Irish had managed to kill some 3,000 English and Scottish soldiers in the first battle of the war. Although the mainly Puritan English parliament had used yellow journalism to deceive the people of England and said that hundreds of thousands were murdered by the Irish catholic scum.

Though this was just a political tactic employed by parliament to steal power away from King Charles I and sully his reputation as the king of England. Parliament distrusted him so much that they feared he would use the Irish against the Puritans in the English Civil war that begun in 1642. In the midst of all the political scandal parliament had begun to recruit more soldiers for the war from both England and Scotland. Although it had already been too late because the Irish had already gained control of the area and formed their own provisional government in Kilkenny.

At first Charles I had ordered James Butler who was the duke of Oromonde and lord lieutenant of Ireland to negotiate a treaty to end the war. Except that the parliament in London and the new parliament in Dublin had both refused the terms of this agreement. By 1645 Charles I had been captured by Cromwell. Also Ormonde was named the head of the confederacy that was the agreed upon union between the Royalists and the Puritans in Ireland. Although not everyone had agreed to be led by Ormonde. Murrough O’Brien of Inchiquin an Irish Protestant that had been posted in the town of Munster.

Rather than just rejecting the new estabblishment he had burned Munster to the ground on orders from Parliament, earning him the nickname Murrough of the burnings. Murrough wasn’t alone in the opposition of Ormonde, a lot of the people who refused the new leaders were Irish catholic rebels that did not like the idea of working together with their old enemies. The war had reached its climax when Colonel Michael Jones had attacked and removed Ormonde from his position at the battle of Rathmines on August 2, 1649. On August 13, 1649 Oliver Cromwell had set sail to decimate the remaining rebel stronghold.

Scotland native Sir Fredrick Hamilton who was somewhat of a celebrity in Ireland and England was given land in Leitrim, northwest of Ireland in 1622. Over the next 20 years he had built his castle to 18,000 acres. Manorhamilton had constantly come under attack during the Irish rebellion of 1641 and the castles defenses had managed to survive the onslaught. In 1642 in retaliation for the O’Rourke clans cattle raids Hamilton had attacked the nearby buildings; even Sligo Abbey didn’t survive the attack.

After which Hamilton and his men had returned to manorhamilton although on the way it as said that Hamilton’s men had become lost and were offered help from from a guide on a white horse and instead he led them off a cliff. This legend ended up being the subject for the short story “The Curse of the Fire and the Shadows” by William B. Yeats. The work of William Butler Yeats is a direct reflection of his life, his inspiration, and his families influence. Yeats was born in Dublin on June 13, 1865. His father, John Butler Yeats, was a barrister who came from a long lineage of land owners tracing all the way back to the 18th century.

His mother, Susan Pollexfen had come from a fairly wealthy merchant family. His father was a supporter of nationalism and the nationalist movement in the country. Initially wanting to be lawyer, John Butler was studying law at the time of his marriage but abandoned the study and moved to England in 1876 when Yeats was only 2 so he could become a painter. Yeats was brought up in an extremely aristocratic family and this had a big impact on his life and his writing. Yeats’ childhood was marked by events like the momentum of nationalism and a lot of societies shift from Catholicism to Puritanism.

His father also decided to renounce their family’s Christian faith and instead of reading and following rationalists like John Stuart; he read the works of William Blake and Walt Whitman. This was one of the first times Yeats had been exposed to English poetry as a child. On January 26 1876, William Yeats was sent to the Godolphin primary school where he studied for the next four years and unexpectedly performed poorly in both math and english. In 1880 due to financial problems, the family returned to Dublin and Yeats enrolled into Erasmus Smith High School. Then in 1883 he attended the Metropolitan School of Art.

While attending college Yeats published his first two works that later appeared in the Dublin University Review. It was later in his college career that Yeats had made the decision to move on from his artistic career and further his abilities as an author. Since then he started writing poems on various themes and plays. His initial works were deeply influenced with the creations of great poet Percy B. Shelley, and later shifted towards pre-Raphaelite verse and Irish myth and traditions. In his maturing years, Yeats came to appreciate the writing of William Blake. A year later his family decided to make the move back to London.

Yeats openly opposed the age of science and often concentrated more on the view astronomy. Yeats’ interest in mysticism, spiritualism, astrology and occultism drew criticism from his colleagues who dismissed it as a lack of intellectuality. His first serious work, “The Isle of Statutes”, was a fantasy poem and was published in Dublin University Review. In 1886, he published a pamphlet Mosada: A Dramatic Poem followed by “The Wanderings of Orisin” and Other Poems, published in 1889. By 1890 Yeats was already an important part of the literary and artistic scenes in London. He even founded his own club called “The Rhymers Club”.

Its members nicknamed “the tragic generation” included writers Lionel Johnson, Ernest Dawson, John Davidson, and Arthur Simmons. It was ar. Like every other English poet of the time Yeats had experienced unrequited love. Her name was Maud Gonne, she was a poet and strong feminist who like Yeats, was very involved with the ideal of nationalism. Yeats had proposed to her and was rejected because of his lack participation in nationalist activism. Yeats’ obsession with Maud Gonne had almost been unnatural, Ross quotes from Yeats’ memoirs “I had never thought to see in a living woman so great beauty.

It belonged to famous pictures, to poetry, to some legendary past. A complexion like the blossom of apples, and yet face and body had the beauty of lineaments which Blake calls the highest beauty because it changes least from youth to age, and a stature so great that she seemed of a divine race” (3). Yeats was madly in love and extremely obsessed. He had believed in Blakes standards so strongly that they become his own and in his eyes Maud Gonne had met them all. For this reason she was the subject of his affection and his art and she knew this well.

This being yet another reason she had denied Yeats’ marriage proposals over and over again. She knew herself to be his muse and nothing more, she was his living inspiration. From 1902 to 1908 Yeats had become involved with the theater, as a result he had written less poetry during this time. During this period he also began to remake himself. This process would last for the next 37 years after which Yeats wrote “Myself I Must Remake”. A poem about his 37 year long experience of his own revival what it meant to him. In 1917 Yeats married Georgie Hyde-Lees and released The Swans at Coole, a collection of his poetry.

Yeats and his wife had two children, Ann Butler Yeats and William Michael Yeats. As successful a poet and writer Yeats had become at this time he had yet to achieve any political success. Politics being an interest of his and combining his fame and artistic abilities as a writer together would have made him very popular with the public. Yet it wasn’t until 1922 when the Irish Free State was established that he had been elected as a senator, and re-elected for a second term in 1925. Soon after he had been elected a debate arose on divorce that Yeats had viewed as a confrontation between Catholics and Puritans.

When the catholics had flat out refused divorce all together and decided to outlaw divorce Yeats had released a series of speeches attacking the goverment and the clergy. Yeats stated that for Puritans marriage isn’t a religious sacrement but the proof of the love a man and a woman have for eachother and that it would seem sacrilegious if the church were to force two people who hate eachother to live together. The debate has described as one of Yeats’ greatest public moments and marked his movement from pluralism to direct religious confrontation. One of the most important writers to Yeats was a man named William Blake.

Encouraged by his father Yeats had begun to read the works of Blake around age 15. In 1889, Yeats had studied and learned so much about Blake that he got together with his fathers friend and poet, Edwin Ellis in editing the 3 works of Blake, Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical. In the revised edition they had also included a 172 page memoir of Blake’s life, an explanation of his symbolic system, and their interpretations of the poems. Ross also writes “Yeats recollects that early in their acquaintance Ellis handed him ‘a scrap of notepaper’ on which he had written an interpretation of ‘To the Jews,’ the preface to the second chapter of Jerusalem.

The four quarters of London represented Blake’s four great mythological personages, the Zoas, and also the four elements'”(3). Yeats believed that these lines were the key to understanding and interpreting Blake’s philosophy and makes the connection between his system and that of Swedenborg or of Boehme. So it was with this proof that Yeats bad determined Ellis’ interpretation was real and that was all they needed to begin their work on the prophetic works of Blake. Ross writes on the relationship between Yeats and William Blake “No writer meant more to Yeats, early, middle, and late.

Blake provided Yeats with nothing less that a sacred literature in which he could renew himself and in relationship to which he could orient himself as a poet and thinker” (2). Yeats considered Blake to be the only protect he knew and in his opinion his writing grew more interesting and also more obscure with each passing year. Also there was no writer that Yeats quoted more, not even Percy Shelley. In addition, while criticizing a lecture by Yeats, Ross states “Yeats’ devotion to Blake never waned, even as he shed other habiliments of the 1890’s, including, to some extent, Shelley” (2).

As this crucial an influence as Shelley is known to be this quote further cements the idea of how important Blake was to Yeats through his entire career, from beginning to end. Toward the end of Yeats life mainly after the Wall Street crash and the great depression had begun. Critics began to arise and ask questions about whether or not a democratic society could survive a great economic depression. It was during this time that Yeats had begun to associate with fascist ideals and even expressed admiration for Benito Mussolini.

Yeats had begun to think that in the aftermath of the depression Europe would be reconstructed through totalitarian rule. Then in 1933 at the age of 68 Yeats had grown very sick and had to receive a Steinbach rejuvenation surgery a year later. Even after this he had continued writing and released four verse plays, a poetry book called A Full Moon in March, and the final revision of A Vision. His last poems were published after his death in 1939 but arrangements couldn’t be made for his funeral until after World War II, at which point his body was taken to Sligo, where he was buried.

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