Born at Sandymount Avenue, Dublin and educated in London and Dublin, he was a writer, dramatist, founder of the Abbey Theatre, and regarded as Ireland’s greatest modern poet. He studied at the Metropolitan School of Art in 1884–5, and then in 1886 at the Royal Hibernian Academy. Yeats published his first lyrics in the Dublin University Review in 1885. He worked for some time as literary correspondent for American newspapers, including the Boston Pilot. Interested in Irish national identity, the occult and myth, he moved to the west of Ireland from living in the West of Ireland before, in 1892, founded the National Literary Society with the Fenian John O’Leary.
After publishing a series of poems and folk tales, Yeats first met the love of his life and his muse, Maud Gonne, in 1889. He proposed marriage to her in 1891 but was rejected. In 1902 Maud Gonne played the title role in Yeats’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan. She married Major John McBride in 1903. In 1904 he was a co-founder of the Abbey and remained a director until his death. After 1916 he proposed again to Maud Gonne, a widow since the execution of her husband for his part in the Rising. She refused again.
He was made a Senator of the Irish Free State by President Cosgrave and defended the Irish Protestant tradition.
In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and he is considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the honour; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929).
Yeats died at Roquebrune, Cap Martin, in the south of France in January 1939. He is buried at Drumcliff, Co. Sligo. One of the most famous literary works on the Rising is Yeats’ Easter, 1916, which describes the poet’s torn emotions at the time.