William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Irish poet and dramatist, born in Dublin on 13 June 1865. Yeats' lifelong literary work was inspired by his awakening to the popular literary heritage of Ireland. He was a contributor and adviser to Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland (1888) edited by John and Ellen O'Leary, and he edited Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888) and Irish Fairy Tales (1892) later to be compiled in one volume as Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland (New York, 1973). Yeats's essay, "What is 'Popular Poetry'?" (1901), vividly shows his passion for the national literature of the populace: "I thought one day—I can remember the very day when I thought it—'If somebody could make a style which would not be an English style and yet would be musical and full of colour, many others would catch fire from him, and we would have a really great school of ballad poetry in Ireland….' Then a little later on I thought, 'If they had something else to write about besides political opinions, if more of them would write about the beliefs of the people like Allingham, or about old legends like Ferguson, they would find it easier to get a style.'' [W. B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions (London: Macmillan, 1961) 3-4]

Yeats tells about his own favourite style in a letter to Mrs. Clement Shorter, 21 June 1899, on her Ballads and Poems (London, 1899):

I think a kind of half ballad, half lyric, is your best manner, though I may only like this best because I think it is the kind of poem I like myself—a ballad that gradually lifts, as 'The Wind on the Hills' lifts, from circumstantial to purely lyrical writing. If you work on you are quite sure to do finer and finer work just because you write in such a simple and circumstantial way. You build up from the ground instead of starting like most writers of verse with an insincere literary language which they can apply to anything. Try however, I think, to build about a lyric emotion. I only learnt that slowly and used to be content to tell stories. [The Letters of W. B. Yeats, ed. Allan Wade (New York, 1955) 322]

Among his major collections of poems are included The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair (1929), and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932), in which he achieved "a spare, colloquial lyricism" (The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 6th edition). In 1923 Yeats received the Nobel Prize for literature. (M. Y.)

Critical Essays 1         Mitsuyoshi Yamanaka. 'Yeats's 'half ballad, half lyric''  HP 'Notes'. The Ballad Society of Japan. 2008.
Critical Essays 2 Naomi Miki. 'Organic Images and the Fusion of Antinomies in Words for Music Perhaps.'


1. Beggar to Beggar Cried
2. The Ballad of Father Gilligan
3. The Ballad of Father O’Hart
4. The Ballad of the Foxhunter
5. The Ballad of Moll Magee
6. The Blessed
7. The Cap and Bells
8. Colonel Martin
9. Crazy Jane and the Bishop
10. The Curse of Cromwell
11. The Host of the Air
12. John Kinsella’s Lament for Mrs. Mary Moore
13. Roger Casement
14. The Rose Tree
15. Running to Paradise