Although he did not spend much time in the neighbourhood, WB Yeats still casts a watchful, fatherly eye over the place. His bust in Sandymount Green looks out on the small and pleasant triangular park in the centre of the village. It is an oasis of calm of which the dreamer in Yeats would surely have approved.
He was born only a short distance away at 5, Sandymount Avenue on 13th June 1865 and left with his family for England two years later. He did return to Ireland years later and lived in what was for him his spiritual home in Sligo. With his father, John Yeats, a well-known artist he met many of Ireland’s leading lights in the arts and began writing poetry from an early age. His first book of verse The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, published in 1889, shows his early interests in Celtic mythology and the occult, themes which he moved away from as he matured. Apart from the title poem two others, notably, The Stolen Child and Down by the Sally Gardens are considered some of his finest early work. Over the years he became a leading member of the Irish Literary Revival movement, and alongside Lady Augusta Gregory, Edward Martyn and other kindred spirits founded the Abbey Theatre, which he served as chief in its early years. On its opening night, 27th December 1904, his play Cathleen ni Houihan and Lady Gregory’s Spreading the News were performed.
In 1889 he met Maud Gonne, who having read his first published poem The Isle of Statues, sought him out. He was smitten with her beauty and outspoken, confident nature and thus began a lifelong, unrequited love. He proposed marriage in 1891, and when rejected admitted that thereafter ‘the troubling of my life began’. She was his muse and although they did briefly become lovers many years later it did not last. I was recently given a book of his poems and particularly like Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven which beautifully captures the essence of love:
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.