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English Literature

WB Yeats: The Wild Swans at Coole

Context

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) is probably the most celebrated of all Irish poets. Born in Dublin, he was the son of a famous painter, and spent his childhood between County Sligo (where his parents were from) and London.

He returned to Dublin as a teenager with the idea of following in his father's footsteps but quickly discovered that he preferred writing poetry. Yeats also became interested and active in promoting Irish heritage, campaigning against the English rule of the time.

He was influenced by the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne. Yeats passionately loved her and asked her to marry him several times but she always refused and married someone else in 1903. Yeats himself didn't marry until 1917, aged 51.

Another influence - from around 1910 onwards - was the American poet Ezra Pound, who wrote in a more modern style. Despite this influence Yeats enjoyed writing in traditional poetic forms.

Yeats was deeply affected by the Easter Rising of 1916 when Irish rebels were killed by English troops. His interest in politics continued to grow and Yeats was made a senator of the Irish Free State in 1922. He was awarded Literature's highest honour, the Nobel Prize, in 1923.

Yeats moved to France and died there in 1939.

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