His father, John B. Yeats, was a painter, and he moved the family to London when William was three. Yeats hated London and didn't do well in school. He was half-blind in one eye and far more interested in daydreaming than learning to read. He always felt spiritually at home in Sligo. The family moved back to Ireland, to Howth on Dublin Bay, in 1880. Five years later, the Dublin University Review published his first two poems.
Yeats became interested in Eastern philosophy and formed the Hermetic Society in Dublin. Mysticism and occultism held a strong attraction for the young poet. Yeats also joined Irish nationalist circles at this time; he believed the Irish and Anglo-Irish could be united under a rich, mystical Celtic heritage. "We might bring the halves together if we had a national literature that made Ireland beautiful in the memory, and yet had been freed from provincialism by an exacting criticism, [a] European pose."
Yeats' first published volume of poetry, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889), brought a young woman to his door named Maud Gonne. His yearning for Maud and his inability of attaining her would haunt him almost all his life. He proposed in 1891 and again in 1916 and was refused both times.
Because Yeats strove for simplicity and lack of abstraction in form but mysticism and a good deal of abstraction in content, his art was constantly struggling against itself. He embraced this tension and opposition: "We begin to live when we have conceived life as tragedy." Yeats founded the National Literary Society and what would become the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. J.M. Synge and Ezra Pound were close friends. Yeats received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923. He also served as an Irish Free State senator for six years.
William Butler Yeats, who wrote, "We begin to live when we have conceived life as tragedy."
The Easter Rising in Dublin prompted Yeats' poem "Easter 1916." Some of his most famous works, including "Sailing to Byzantium," "Among School Children," and "Leda and the Swan," were published in The Tower (1928). The visionary poem "The Second Coming" was published in 1921.
Yeats said, "I think all happiness depends on the energy to assume the mask of some other life, on a re-birth as something not one's self."
His famous epitaph reads, "Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman, pass by!"