William Butler Yeats: Irish Poet
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Born in June of 1865 in Sandymount, Ireland, Symbolist poet, William Butler Yeats, was to become one of the literary giants of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. Yeats went out with a bang at age 74, engaging in several torrid love affairs with younger women in the last five years of his life. These included the left wing journalist and sexual radical and anarchist Ethel Mannin who was opposed to capital punishment, orthodox education and blood sports.
This lasted a year before he took up with Dorothy Wellesley, Duchess of Wellington, and future lesbian lover of the writer Vita Sakville-West. Yeats spent the majority of his time with her at the end of his life and she was with him at his deathbed in 1939. And yet, Yeats most famous love poem, When You Are Old, was written to one of his first loves, Maud Gonne, an Anglo-Irish revolutionary, feminist and actress that turned him down.
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
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