Happy Birthday Mr Yeats

Today, 13th June 2015 we celebrate what would have been the 150th birthday of one of our beloved poets, WB Yeats. There are many cultural and historical events being hosted nationwide today, and indeed all weekend, in celebration of the poet’s life and works.
So as I read a selection of articles in this mornings papers, I began to ponder on what Yeats means to me.
I was first introduced to the poetry of WB in the mid ’80’s whilst a teenager in secondary school. I recall reading The Lake Isle of Inisfree alongside Easter 1916 and more. I read this poetry as it was required in the school curriculum. However, like many other works, it left a lasting impression on me. As I brought up my own family I continued reading the works of Yeats and enjoyed instilling an understanding of his work in my children as they grew up.
In recent years I returned to university where I completed an MA in Irish Literature and of course I studied WB at a more in-depth level. Here I grew even more fascinated and inspired by his varied works.
I now work as an English tutor and nothing gives me greater pleasure that seeing a student appreciate the poems he/she is reading. On first glance a student normally rolls the eyes and says, ‘why do we have to know this?’ Then on further exploration it sinks in, ‘ah, I get it now’. Just recently I was explaining The Lake Isle of Inisfree to a student and I asked her to contemplate the many young Irish people forced to leave the homeland in recent years….surely a certain image will regularly stir up a memory from home – such is the simple context of the poem. Yeats too was in another country when a simple water image in a shop window reminded him of Ireland and where he longed to be. Such poetry will live on and so Yeats will inevitably live on also.
I find it impossible to drive towards Sligo and not stop off at Drumcliff. It just wouldn’t feel right to drive by. It only takes a few minutes to stop off and say hi to WB!
I’m an avid fan of the play Cathleen NiHoulihan by Yeats. Here Ireland is portrayed as a beautiful woman who entices young men to fight for her. Again, it’s a timeless piece of work.
Sailing to Byzantium is one of my favourite pieces of Yeats’ poetry. Just before the Leaving Cert exams this year, a young student said to me that this is also her favourite. I find it so encouraging and rewarding to hear a young 18 year old praise the work of WB. It shows just what a legacy the man has left.
So as I listen to the Waterboy’s An Appointment with Mr Yeats today, it with awe that I hear the words of ‘White Birds’, ‘The hosting Of the Shee‘, ‘September 1913‘ and so many others.
Today we celebrate the birthday of one of Ireland’s greatest poets: one of the greatest cultural icons Ireland has ever known, and possibly one of the most inspirational writers the world has borne. Yeats continues to nurture the creativity not only in writers, but in artists, musicians and historians the world over. And I continue to learn from this great master of language.
Happy birthday Mr Yeats!

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