seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Birth of Ewart Milne, Irish Poet

ewart-milneEwart Milne, Irish poet, is born in Dublin on May 25, 1903, He describes himself on various book jackets as “a sailor before the mast, ambulance driver and courier during the Spanish Civil War, a land worker and estate manager in England during and after World War II” and also “an enthusiast for lost causes – national, political, social and merely human.”

Milne is born of English and Welsh-Irish parents and is educated at Christchurch Cathedral Grammar School. In 1920 he signs on as a seaman and works on boats, off and on, until 1935. During the 1930s he begins writing and has his first poems published in 1935.

The background to the Spanish Civil War contributes to Milne’s political awakening and he comes to England to work as a voluntary administrator for the Spanish Medical Aid Committee in London, for whom he often acts as a medical courier. He also was once unwillingly involved in an arms deal while visiting Spain on their behalf.

After Spanish Medical Aid Committee is wound up, Milne returns to Ireland but remains politically active in support of the campaign for the release of Frank Ryan, the leader of the Connolly Column of Irish volunteers on the Republican side, who had been captured and imprisoned in Spain. At one point he takes part in a delegation to Westminster seeking Labour Party support for this. In August 1938 he is reported in The Worker’s Republic as being one of the twelve member committee of the James Connolly Irish club in London.

During his time in England and Spain, Milne gets to know the left-leaning poets who support the Republican cause, including W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis. In 1938 his first collection of poems, Forty North Fifty West, is published in Dublin, followed by two others in 1940 and 1941. Having taken a pro-British line in neutral Ireland, he is informed by Karl Petersen, the German press attaché in Dublin, that he is on the Nazi death list. This convinces him to help in the British war effort and he returns to England with the help of John Betjeman, then working at the British embassy in Ireland.

Between 1942–1962 Milne is resident in England and an active presence on the English literary scene. In particular he becomes associated with the poets grouped around the magazine Nine, edited by Peter Russell and Ian Fletcher. He and his wife Thelma also back the young Irish poet Patrick Galvin when he launches his own magazine, Chanticleer. This generous encouragement of younger writers is later extended to several others, including John F. Deane, Gerald Dawe and Maurice Scully.

Milne regards his return to Dublin in 1962 as a disaster, as his four-year stay is overshadowed by quarrels with the establishment, the discovery of betrayal by a friend and the death of his wife from lung cancer. The misery of those events is recorded in Time Stopped (1967). The artistic frustration of the time also results in the poems included in Cantata Under Orion (1976). Returning to England in 1966, he settles in Bedford. Politically he remains involved and speaks alongside Auberon Waugh at the rally on behalf of Biafra in 1968, but his views move further to the right in later years. He writes to The Irish Times on April 13, 1976, saying that he has been “taken in by Stalin and that Leninism is Satanism.” He also sides with the Loyalist position in the Ulster conflict. He dies in Bedford of a heart attack on January 14, 1987.

Milne is twice married, first to Kathleen Ida Bradner in 1927, by whom he has two sons; then in 1948 to Thelma Dobson, by whom he has two more sons.

(Pictured: A portrait of Ewart Milne by Cecil F. Salkkeld, as it appears in Milne’s book Forty North Fifty West)


Leave a comment

Birth of Poet James Clarence Mangan

Mangan bustJames Clarence Mangan, Irish poet, is born on May 1, 1803 in Dublin. His poetry fits into a variety of literary traditions. Most obviously, and frequently, his work is read alongside such nationalist political authors as John Mitchel, as they appear in The Nation, The Vindicator and the United Irishman newspapers or as a manifestation of the 19th-century Irish Cultural Revival. He is also frequently read as a Romantic poet.

Mangan is the son of James Mangan, a former hedge school teacher and native of Shanagolden, County Limerick, and Catherine Smith from Kiltale, County Meath. Following his marriage to Smith, James Mangan takes over a grocery business in Dublin owned by the Smith family, eventually becoming bankrupt as a result. Mangan describes his father as having “a princely soul but no prudence,” and attributes his family’s bankruptcy to his father’s suspect business speculations and tendency to throw expensive parties. Thanks to poor record keeping, inconsistent biographies, and his own semi-fictional and sensationalized autobiographical accounts, his early years are the subject of much speculation. However, despite the popular image of him as a long-suffering, poor poet, there is reason to believe that his early years are spent in middle class comfort.

Mangan is educated at a Jesuit school where he learns Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian. He attends three schools before the age of fifteen. Obliged to find a job in order to support his family, he then becomes a lawyer’s clerk, and is later an employee of the Ordnance Survey and an assistant in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Mangan’s first verses are published in 1818. From 1820 he adopts the middle name Clarence. In 1830 he begins producing translations – generally free interpretations rather than strict transliterations – from German, a language he had taught himself. Of interest are his translations of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. From 1834 his contributions begin appearing in the Dublin University Magazine. In 1840 he begins producing translations from Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Irish. He is also known for literary hoaxes as some of his “translations” are in fact works of his own, like Twenty Golden Years Ago, attributed to a certain Selber.

Mangan is friends with the patriotic journalists Thomas Davis and John Mitchel, who ultimately writes his biography. His poems are published in their newspaper The Nation.

Although Mangan’s early poetry is often apolitical, after the Great Famine he begins writing patriotic poems, including influential works such as Dark Rosaleen, a translation of “Róisín Dubh,” and A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century.

Mangan’s best known poems include Dark Rosaleen, Siberia, Nameless One, A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century, The Funerals, To the Ruins of Donegal Castle, Pleasant Prospects for the Land-eaters and Woman of Three Cows. He writes a brief autobiography, on the advice of his friend Charles Patrick Meehan, which ends mid-sentence. This is apparently written in the last months of his life, since he mentions his narrative poem of the Italian Gasparo Bandollo, which is published in the Dublin University Magazine in May 1849.

Mangan is a lonely and often difficult man who suffers from mood swings, depression and irrational fears, and becomes a heavy drinker and opium user. His appearance grows eccentric, and he is described by the artist WF Wakeman as frequently wearing “a huge pair of green spectacles,” padded shirts to hide his malnourished figure and a hat which “resembled those which broomstick-riding witches are usually represented with.” On June 20, 1849, weakened by poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, he succumbs to cholera at the age of 46. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Memorial bust of James Mangan in St. Stephen’s Green, sculpted by Oliver Sheppard)


Leave a comment

Birth of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Canadian Politician

Thomas D’Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, Irish Canadian politician, Catholic spokesman, journalist, poet, and a Father of Canadian Confederation, is born on April 13, 1825 in Carlingford, County Louth.

McGee grows up a Catholic Irishman who hates the British rule of Ireland and works for a peasant revolution to overthrow British rule and secure Irish independence. He escapes arrest and flees to the United States in 1848, where he reverses his political beliefs. He becomes disgusted with American republicanism and democracy, and becomes intensely conservative in his politics and in his religious support for the Pope.

McGee moves to Canada in 1857 and works hard to convince the Irish Catholics to cooperate with the Protestant British in forming a Confederation that will make for a strong Canada in close alliance with Britain. His fervor for Confederation garners him the title “Canada’s first nationalist.” He fights the Fenians in Canada, who are Irish Catholics who hate the British and resemble his younger self politically. McGee succeeds in helping create the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

On April 7, 1868, McGee, having participated in a parliamentary debate that goes on past midnight, walks back to the boarding house where he is staying. McGee is opening the door to Trotter’s Boarding House in Ottawa when he is shot by someone waiting for him on the inside. Several people run to the scene, however there is no sign of the assassin. It is later determined that McGee is assassinated with a shot from a handgun by Patrick J. Whelan. He is to date the only Canadian victim of political assassination at the federal level.

McGee is given a state funeral in Ottawa and interred in a crypt at the Cimetière Notre Dame des Neiges in Montreal. His funeral procession in Montreal draws an estimated crowd of 80,000 out of a total city population of 105,000.

Patrick J. Whelan, a Fenian sympathiser and a Catholic, is accused, tried, convicted, and hanged for the crime on February 11, 1869, in Ottawa. The jury is decisively swayed by the forensic evidence that Whelan’s gun had been fired shortly before the killing, together with the circumstantial evidence that he had threatened and stalked McGee. Historian David Wilson points out that forensic tests conducted in 1972 show that the fatal bullet is compatible with both the gun and the bullets that Whelan owned. Wilson concludes, “The balance of probabilities suggests that Whelan either shot McGee, or was part of a hit-squad, but there is still room for reasonable doubt as to whether he was the man who actually pulled the trigger.”

The government of Canada’s Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building stands near the site of the assassination. The case is dramatised in the Canadian play Blood on the Moon by Ottawa actor/playwright Pierre F. Brault. The assassination of McGee is also a major component of Away, a novel about Irish immigration to Canada by Canadian novelist Jane Urquhart.


Leave a comment

Death of Francis Arthur Fahy, Songwriter & Poet

francis-arthur-fahyFrancis Arthur Fahy, Irish nationalist, songwriter and poet, dies on April 1, 1935. He is probably best remembered as the composer of the evergreen “The Ould Plaid Shawl”. He collaborates with various composers, including Alicia Adélaide Needham, an associate of the Royal Academy of Music.

Fahy is born in Kinvara, County Galway, on September 29, 1854 into a family of seventeen, eight of whom survive. His father, Thomas, comes from the Burren area and his mother, Celia Marlborough, is born near Gort, County Galway.

In 1896, Fahy becomes president of the emerging Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League) in London, a position he holds until 1908. He is also a long time member of the London Irish Literary Society. Described as a small, brisk man, his enthusiasm and energy knows no bounds. His most memorable poems and songs include “The Ould Plaid Shawl,” “The Queen of Connemara,” the original “Galway Bay,” and “The Tide Full In.” His publications include The Child’s Irish Song Book (1881), The Irish Reciter (1882), Irish History in Rhyme (1882) and Irish Songs and Poems (1887).

Fahy retires from the Civil Service at the age of 65. He dies at the age of 81 on April 1, 1935.


Leave a comment

Death of Charles Gavan Duffy

charles-gavin-duffyCharles Gavan Duffy, Irish nationalist, journalist, poet, and Australian politician, dies on February 9, 1903 in Nice, France. He is the 8th Premier of Victoria and one of the most colourful figures in Victorian political history.

Duffy is born on April 12, 1816 in Dublin Street, Monaghan, County Monaghan. Both of his parents die while he is still a child and his uncle, Fr. James Duffy, who is the Catholic Parish Priest of Castleblayney, becomes his guardian for a number of years. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College in Belfast and is admitted to the Irish Bar in 1845. Duffy becomes a leading figure in Irish literary circles.

Duffy, along with Thomas Osborne Davis and John Blake Dillon, founds The Nation and becomes its first editor. Davis and Dillon later become Young Irelanders. All three are members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association. This paper, under Duffy, transforms from a literary voice into a “rebellious organisation.”

In August 1850, Duffy forms the Tenant Right League to bring about reforms in the Irish land system and protect tenants’ rights, and in 1852 is elected to the House of Commons for New Ross. By 1855, the cause of Irish tenants seems more hopeless than ever. Broken in health and spirit, Duffy publishes a farewell address to his constituency, declaring that he has resolved to retire from parliament, as it is no longer possible to accomplish the task for which he has solicited their votes.

In 1856, emigrates with his family to Australia, settling in the newly formed Colony of Victoria. A public appeal is held to enable him to buy the freehold property necessary to stand for the colonial Parliament. He is immediately elected to the Legislative Assembly for Villiers and Heytesbury in the Western District in 1856. He later represented Dalhousie and then North Gippsland. With the collapse of the Victorian Government‘s Haines Ministry during 1857, another Irish Catholic, John O’Shanassy, unexpectedly becomes Premier with Duffy his second-in-charge.

In 1871, Duffy leads the opposition to Premier Sir James McCulloch‘s plan to introduce a land tax, on the grounds that it unfairly penalises small farmers. When McCulloch’s government is defeated on this issue, Duffy becomes Premier and Chief Secretary.  The majority of the colony is Protestant, and Duffy is accused of favouring Catholics in government appointments. In June 1872, his government is defeated in the Assembly on a confidence motion allegedly motivated by sectarianism.

When Graham Berry becomes Premier in 1877, he makes Duffy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a post he holds without much enthusiasm until 1880, when he quits politics and retires to the south of France. He remains interested in both the politics of his adoptive country and of Ireland. He is knighted in 1873 and is made KCMG in 1877. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy dies in Nice, France, at the age of 86 in 1903.


Leave a comment

Inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

jfk-inaugurationJohn Fitzgerald Kennedy is inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States on Friday, January 20, 1961 at the eastern portico of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., becoming the first Irish Catholic to be elected to the office. The inauguration marks the commencement of Kennedy’s only term as President and of Lyndon B. Johnson‘s only term as Vice President. Kennedy is assassinated 2 years, 306 days into this term, and Johnson succeeds to the presidency.

Kennedy takes office following the November 1960 presidential election, in which he narrowly defeats Richard Nixon, the then–incumbent Vice President. In addition to being the first Catholic to become President, he also becomes the youngest person elected to the office.

His inaugural address encompasses the major themes of his campaign and defines his presidency during a time of economic prosperity, emerging social changes, and diplomatic challenges. This inauguration is the first in which a poet, Robert Frost, participates in the program. Frost, then 86 years old, recites his poem “The Gift Outright” at Kennedy’s request as an act of gratitude towards Frost for his help during the campaign.

The oath of office for the President is administered to Kennedy by Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren using a closed family Bible at 12:51 (ET) although he officially became president at the stroke of noon as defined by the 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution. He does not wear an overcoat when taking the oath of office and delivering the inaugural address, despite the cold conditions of 22 °F (−6 °C) with windchill at 7 °F (−14 °C) at noon.

Kennedy’s 1366-word inaugural address, the first delivered to a televised audience in color, is considered among the best presidential inaugural speeches in American history. It includes the iconic line “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Five First Ladies, Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy attend the event, as does future First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford. Former President Harry S. Truman joins Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Kennedy on the platform, as does future Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford, making this, retroactively, the largest conclave of the “presidential fraternity” prior to the opening of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in the 1990s.

Presidential inaugurations are organized by the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. For Kennedy’s inauguration, this committee is chaired by Senator John Sparkman, and includes Senators Carl Hayden and Styles Bridges, and Representatives Sam Rayburn, John W. McCormack, and Charles A. Halleck.


Leave a comment

Birth of Poet & Linguist Michael O’Siadhail

michael-o-siadhailMicheal O’Siadhail, poet and linguist, is born in Dublin on January 12, 1947. Among his awards are The Marten Toonder Prize and The Irish American Culture Institute Prize for Literature.

O’Siadhail is born into a middle-class Dublin family. His father, a chartered accountant, is born in County Monaghan and works most of his life in Dublin, and his mother is a Dubliner with roots in County Tipperary. Both of them are portrayed in his work in several poems such as “Kinsmen” and “Promise”. From the age of twelve, he is educated at the Jesuit boarding school Clongowes Wood College, an experience he is later to describe in a sequence of poems “Departure” (The Chosen Garden).

At Clongowes O’Siadhail is influenced by his English teacher, the writer Tom MacIntyre, who introduces him to contemporary poetry. At thirteen he first visits the Aran Islands. This pre-industrial society with its large-scale emigration has a profound impact on him. His earlier work reflects this tension between his love of his native Dublin and his emotional involvement with those outlying communities and which features in the sequence “Fists of Stone” (The Chosen Garden).

O’Siadhail studies at Trinity College Dublin (1964–68) where his teachers include David H. Greene and Máirtín Ó Cadhain. He is elected a Scholar of the College and takes a First Class Honours Degree. His circle at Trinity includes David McConnell (later professor of genetics), Mary Robinson and David F. Ford (later Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge). He subsequently embarks on a government exchange scholarship studying folklore and the Icelandic language at the University of Oslo. He retains lifelong contacts with Norwegian friends and sees Scandinavian literature as a major influence.

In 1970 O’Siadhail marries Bríd Ní Chearbhaill, who is born in Gweedore, County Donegal. She is for most of her life a teacher and later head mistress in an inner-city Dublin primary school until her retirement in 1995 due to Parkinson’s disease. She is a central figure in his oeuvre celebrated in the sequence “Rerooting” in The Chosen Garden and in Love Life, which is a meditation on their lifelong relationship. One Crimson Thread travels with the progression of her Parkinson’s Disease. She dies on June, 17, 2013.

For seventeen years, O’Siadhail earns his living as an academic; firstly as a lecturer at Trinity College (1969–73) where he is awarded a Master of Letters degree in 1971 and then as a research professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. During these years he gives named lectures in Dublin and at Harvard University and Yale University and is a visiting professor at the University of Iceland in 1982. In 1987 he resigns his professorship to devote himself to writing poetry which he describes as “a quantum leap.”

During his years as an academic, O’Siadhail, writing under the Irish spelling of his name, published works on the linguistics of Irish and a textbook for learners of Irish.

O’Siadhail serves as a member of the Arts Council of the Republic of Ireland (1987–93), of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Relations (1989–97) and is editor of Poetry Ireland Review. He is the founding chairman of ILE (Ireland Literature Exchange). As a founder member of Aosdána (Academy of Distinguished Irish Artists) he is part of a circle of artists and works with his friend the composer Seóirse Bodley, the painters Cecil King and Mick O’Dea and in 2008 gives a reading as part of Brian Friel‘s eightieth birthday celebration.

O’Siadhail represents Ireland at the Poetry Society‘s European Poetry Festival in London in 1981 and at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1997. He is writer-in-residence at the Yeats Summer School in 1991 and writer in residence at the University of British Columbia in 2002.

O’Siadhail is now married to Christina Weltz, who is a native of New York, and Assistant Professor of surgical oncology at Mount Sinai Hospital. They reside in New York.


Leave a comment

Death of Padraic Colum, Poet & Novelist

padraic-columPadraic Colum, Irish-born American poet, novelist, biographer, playwright, and children’s author whose lyrics capture the traditions and folklore of rural Ireland, dies in Enfield, Connecticut on January 11, 1972. He is one of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival.

Colum was born on December 8, 1881 in Columcille, County Longford, the first of eight children born to Patrick and Susan Columb. In 1892, the family moves to Glasthule, near Dublin and he attends the local national school. He starts writing after he finishes school and meets a number of the leading Irish writers of the time, including W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and Æ. He also joins the Gaelic League and is a member of the first board of the Abbey Theatre. He becomes a regular user of the National Library of Ireland, where he meets James Joyce and the two become lifelong friends.

Influenced by the literary activity of the Celtic revival centered in Dublin at the turn of the century, Colum publishes the collection of poetry Wild Earth (1907). He co-founds The Irish Review in 1911, then three years later settles permanently in the United States. His varied literary output includes volumes of poetry including Dramatic Legends (1922) and Creatures (1927), plays such as Broken Soil (first performed 1903) and The Land (1905), novels, anthologies of folklore and children’s books. The reminiscence Our Friend James Joyce (1959) is written with his wife Mary (Maguire), a well-known literary critic.

The Colums spent the years from 1930 to 1933 living in Paris and Nice, where Padraic renews his friendship with James Joyce and becomes involved in the transcription of Finnegans Wake. After their time in France, the couple moves to New York City, where they do some teaching at Columbia University and City College of New York. He is a prolific author and publishes a total of 61 books, not counting his plays. While in New York, he writes the screenplay for the 1954 stop-motion animated film Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy. It is his only screenplay.

Mary dies in 1957 and Colum completes Our Friend James Joyce, which they had worked on together. It is published in 1958. He divides his later years between the United States and Ireland. In 1961 the Catholic Library Association awards him the Regina Medal.

Padraic Colum dies on January 11, 1972, at the age of 90, in Enfield, Connecticut. He is buried in St. Fintan’s Cemetery in Sutton, Dublin.


Leave a comment

Death of Samuel Beckett, Playwright & Poet

Samuel Barclay Beckett, avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, dies in Paris, France on December 22, 1989.

Beckett is born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, in Foxrock, Dublin. His father, William Frank Beckett, works in the construction business and his mother, Maria Jones Roe, is a nurse. Beckett attends Earlsfort House School in Dublin and then, at age 14, he goes to Portora Royal School, the same school attended by Oscar Wilde. He receives his Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1927. In his youth he periodically experiences severe depression keeping him in bed until mid-day. This experience later influences his writing.

In 1928, Beckett finds a welcome home in Paris where he meets and becomes a devoted student of James Joyce. In 1931, he embarks on a restless sojourn through Great Britain, France and Germany. He writes poems and stories and does odd jobs to support himself. On his journey, he comes across many individuals who inspire some of his most interesting characters.

In 1937, Beckett settles in Paris. Shortly thereafter, he is stabbed by a pimp after refusing his solicitations. While recovering in the hospital, he meets Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil, a piano student in Paris. The two become life-long companions and eventually marry. After meeting with his attacker, Beckett drops the charges, partly to avoid the publicity.

During World War II, Beckett’s Irish citizenship allows him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He fights in the resistance movement until 1942 when members of his group are arrested by the Gestapo. He and Suzanne flee to the unoccupied zone until the end of the war.

After the war, Beckett is awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery during his time in the French resistance. He settles in Paris and begins his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he writes Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.

Beckett’s first publication, Molloy, enjoys modest sales, but more importantly praise from French critics. Soon, Waiting for Godot, achieves quick success at the small Theatre de Babylone putting Beckett in the international spotlight. The play runs for 400 performances and enjoys critical praise.

Beckett writes in both French and English, but his most well-known works, written between World War II and the 1960s, are written in French. Early on he realizes his writing has to be subjective and come from his own thoughts and experiences. His works are filled with allusions to other writers such as Dante Alighieri, René Descartes, and James Joyce. Beckett’s plays are not written along traditional lines with conventional plot and time and place references. Instead, he focuses on essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways. This style of writing has been called “Theater of the Absurd” by Martin Esslin, referring to poet Albert Camus’ concept of “the absurd.” The plays focus on human despair and the will to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.

The 1960s are a period of change for Beckett. He finds great success with his plays across the world. Invitations come to attend rehearsals and performances which lead to a career as a theater director. In 1961, he secretly marries Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who takes care of his business affairs. A commission from the BBC in 1956 leads to offers to write for radio and cinema through the 1960s.

Beckett continues to write throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in a small house outside Paris. There he can give total dedication to his art of evading publicity. In 1969, he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, though he declines accepting it personally to avoid making a speech at the ceremonies. However, he should not be considered a recluse. He often times meets with other artists, scholars and admirers to talk about his work.

By the late 1980s, Beckett is in failing health and is moved to a small nursing home. His wife Suzanne dies on July 17, 1989. His life is confined to a small room where he receives visitors and writes. Suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease, he dies on December 22, 1989.

 


Leave a comment

W.B. Yeats Receives Nobel Prize in Literature

william-butler-yeats-1William Butler Yeats, Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature, receives Nobel Prize in Literature on December 10, 1923.

Yeats is born at Sandymount in County Dublin on June 13, 1865. His father, John Butler Yeats, is a lawyer and a well-known portrait painter. He is educated in London and in Dublin, but spends his summers in the west of Ireland in the family’s summer house at Connacht. The young Yeats is very much part of the fin de siècle in London. At the same time he is active in societies that attempt an Irish literary revival. His first volume of verse appears in 1887, but in his earlier period his dramatic production outweighs his poetry both in bulk and in import.

Together with Lady Gregory, Yeats founds the Irish Literary Theatre, which later becomes the Abbey Theatre, and serves as its chief playwright until the movement is joined by John Millington Synge. His plays usually treat Irish legends and also reflect his fascination with mysticism and spiritualism. The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King’s Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907) are among the best known.

After 1910, Yeats’s dramatic art takes a sharp turn toward a highly poetical, static, and esoteric style. His later plays are written for small audiences. They experiment with masks, dance, and music, and are profoundly influenced by the Japanese Noh plays. Although a convinced patriot, he deplores the hatred and the bigotry of the Nationalist movement, and his poetry is full of moving protests against it. He is appointed to the Irish Senate, Seanad Éireann, in 1922.

Yeats is one of the few writers whose greatest works are actually written after the award of the Nobel Prize. Whereas he receives the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on his lyric achievement. His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), make him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. His recurrent themes are the contrast of art and life, masks, cyclical theories of life (the symbol of the winding stairs), and the ideal of beauty and ceremony contrasting with the hubbub of modern life.

Yeats dies at the age of 73 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France, on January 28, 1939. He is buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. In September 1948, his body is moved to the churchyard of St. Columba’s Church, Drumcliff, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette Macha.

(From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969)