W.B. Yeats by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1935.
National Portrait Gallery. Licenced under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0

William Butler Yeats


William Butler Yeats (1865–1939): Irish poet and playwright; Nobel Laureate. According to TSE, he was ‘one of those few whose history is the history of their own time, who are part of the consciousness of an age’ (On Poetry and Poets). TSE met Yeats soon after arriving in London, but despite their mutual admiration of Pound, they had little contact until 1922, when TSE told Ottoline Morrell that Yeats was ‘one of the very small number of people with whom one can talk profitably of poetry’. In his review of Per Amica Silentia Lunae, TSE said ‘One is never weary of the voice, though the accents are strange’ (‘A Foreign Mind’, Athenaeum, 4 July 1919). He was keen to publish Yeats in the Criterion: see ‘A Biographical Fragment’, in Criterion 1 (July 1923), ‘The Cat and the Moon’, C. 2 (July 1924), ‘The Tower’, C. 5 (June 1927). Yeats was instinctively opposed to TSE’s work, but discussed it at length in his Introduction to the Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936), and declared after the publication of The Waste Land that he found it ‘very beautiful’ (Jan. 1923). Valerie Eliot told Francis Warner, 21 Sept. 1966: ‘There is very little correspondence between the two poets in my files and, curiously enough, in more than fifteen years I only heard my husband speak of Yeats occasionally and he said that no particular meeting remained in his mind. They had, of course, met many times – and there was the vicarious association when Pound was acting as the Irishman’s secretary – but it was a formal friendship, due partly, perhaps, to the difference of age.’ See further Michael Butler Yeats, ‘Eliot and Yeats: A Personal View’, in The Placing of T. S. Eliot, ed. Jewel Spears Brooker (1991), 169–84; Roy Foster, Yeats: A Life: I The Apprentice Mage (1997); II: The Arch-Poet (2003).