01 March 2010

I am of Ireland: William Butler Yeats

‘I am of Ireland,
And the Holy Land of Ireland,
And time runs on,’ cried she.
‘Come out of charity,
Come dance with me in Ireland.’

March 17th is Saint Patrick’s Day when everyone is Irish. Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865 –1939) wrote the poem I am of Ireland. Yeats is remembered as one of the greatest poets and playwrights of the twentieth century. His father John Butler Yeats was a portrait artist and his son grew up in an artistic circle that included, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and William Morris. American photographer Napoleon Sarony took the photo of Wilde and the American painter John Singer Sargent drew Yeats. The Nobel Prize winner was also an Irish Nationalist and participant in the Irish Literary Revival. His muse was the beautiful actress Maud Gonne (1866 -1953) who although English born was an Irish activist. Yeats dedicated the play The Countess Cathleen to her in which the landowner Countess Cathleen O’Shea sells her soul to feed her tenants during a famine. Along with Lady Augusta Gregory (1852 –1932) he wrote the nationalistic Cathleen Ní Houlihan as another theatrical vehicle for Gonne. Gregory and he co-founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Yeats proposed to Gonne many times and she refused him; she lives on in his plays and poems like his mythic Irish dancer.


  1. The terrible beauty of Yeats and his heart-deep llove for Ireland all coming from an Anglo-Irish that the Irish never let him forget. I love the image of Yeats beating out the rhythm of his lines with a walking stick. His words were psalms with their own music.

  2. It was almost because he was an "outsider" that he could see the beauty of Ireland more clearly.


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