On this day, The Countess Cathleen by William Butler Yeats opens at the Irish Literary Theatre in Dublin, the theater’s inaugural performance.
Yeats, already an accomplished poet, had been persuaded to help launch the theater by his friend Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory, a writer and collector of Irish folklore. Until 1907, Yeats managed the theater’s business affairs and wrote numerous plays. On occasion, his experimental works sparked riots in the audience.
Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865 but moved to London when he was two. His family returned to Dublin in 1880. His father was a former lawyer turned painter, and Yeats, too, planned to pursue art. He entered the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin after high school but soon left to focus on poetry. His first poems appeared in 1885 in the Dublin University Review. In 1887, he moved to London and became a writer, devoting himself to visionary, mystic poetry. His first book of verse, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, was published in 1889, the same year he fell hopelessly in love with actress Maude Gonne, who refused to marry him. In 1891, he helped found the Rhymers Club, a society of poets. In 1898, he met Lady Gregory and spent many subsequent summers at her estate. He later purchased a nearby ruined castle, which he called The Tower, and which figures as an important symbol in his later work.
As manager of the Irish National Theatre, Yeats became increasingly appreciated as a writer of national stature. His poetry, once ecstatic and dreamy, became tighter, sparser, and more realistic. He published Responsibilities: Poems and a Play in 1914 and The Wild Swans of Coole in 1917. Some of his best work was written after 1917, including Sailing to Byzantium and The Second Coming.
In 1922, he was appointed a senator of the new Irish Free State, and the following year he won the Nobel Prize. Yeats died in 1939 in France.