Yeats wanted precision and security of outline, not in order to specify what his physical eye saw, but to specify what his imagination saw.  Yeats hated realism.  For Yeats, as for the Romantic poets he loved, there were two chief species of art: one mimetic and factual, the other subjective, luminous; one the mirror, the other the lamp:

'He [Arthur Symons] thought to spend his…artistic life, in making the silver mirror without speck, and I thought to see it fused and glowing.' 
Memoirs, ed. Dennis Donohughe, (1972).

'The greater the subjectivity, the less the imitation.  Though perhaps there is always some imitation… In fact, imitation seems to me to create a language in which we say things which are not imitation.'
The Letters of W. B. Yeats, ed. Allan Wade. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, (1954). 

As a poet, Yeats hoped to subvert a language created for the description of the everyday world, in order to embody visions of the extra-terrestrial.  The mirror of his art must not merely reflect, but kindle, start to burn with images hitherto unseen.

Yeats’s poetry shows a lifelong search for such images, images that were not reflections but illuminations.  He sought them in translations of old Irish myths.  He sought them in visionary poetry, especially that of Blake and Shelley.  He sought them in the fairy-tales told by Irish peasants – he heard many as a boy, when his family spent summers in Sligo, in the far west of Ireland, and later he made a systematic investigation of folk-beliefs.  He sought them in séances, alchemical research, spiritualistic societies, telepathic experimentation, hashish-dreams, meditations on symbols.  When old, he sought them in philosophy, from Plato to Berkeley to the Indian Upanishads.  Wherever anyone purported to find revelation – even the most disreputable places – Yeats was willing to look.

From the Introduction by Daniel Albright
© Everyman’s Library, 1992.



 1865  Birth 13 June in Dublin of William Butler Yeats,  first child of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen Yeats.
 1867  Yeats's father gives up study of law in order to paint. Family move to Regents Park, London.
 1872  Susan Yeats and her children move from London to Sligo in West of Ireland.
 1874  Family moves to West Kensington, London.
 1877  Yeats enrolled at the Godolphin School, Hammersmith, London.
 1881  Family's finances worsen and thye move to Howth near Dublin. Yeats attends the Erasmus Smith High School, Dublin.
 1885  Yeats publishes The Island of Statues, a long Spenserian-idyll.
 1887  Yeats and family rejoin father in London (South Kensington). Yeats becomes a regular visitor to spiritualist Madame Blavatsky, and to the William Morris Household.
 1888  Accepts a commision to edit Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. Spends Christmas with Oscar Wilde.
 1890  Initiated into Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn, a Rosicrucian Society.
 1891  Marriage proposal to Maud Gonne, repeated at intervals until 1903.
 1894  Visits Paris, where he meets Paul Verlaine.
 1897  Spends two months at Coole with Lady Gregory, who was collecting folklore.
 1898  Mystic marriage' with Maud Gonne.
 1900  Death of Yeats's mother.
 1904  First opening of the Abbey Theatre, which would absorb Yeats for a decade.
 1907  Love-affair with Maud Gonne finally consummated. Yeats visits Ravenna with Lady Gregory.
 1910  Accepts a pension from the British Government of £150. Publishes The Green Helmet and Other Poems.
 1911  Meets Ezra Pound in Paris.
 1913  Rents cottage in Sussex with Pound who acts as his amanuensis for the next two winters.
 1915  Writes his autobiography from 1887-1898, published posthumously.
 1917  Buys a Norman tower in Co. Galway. Marries Georgie Hyde-Lees on 20 October. Publishes The Wild Swans at Coole.
 1920  American lecture tour. Publishes Michael Robartes and the Dancer.
 1922  Civil War.  Yeats established in Merrion Square, Dublin.  He is appointed Senator of Irisih Free State.
 1923  Awarded the Nobel Prize, in November.
 1928  Removed from the Senate.
 1939  Death of Yeats on 28 January.