William Butler Yeats

Other names: 

W. B. Yeats

Date of birth: 
13 Jun 1865
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
28 Jan 1939
Location of death: 
Roquebrune, France

W. B. Yeats was a prolific and prominent Anglo-Irish poet and literary figure.

At various stages of his life, Yeats was influenced by and influenced Indians. As a young adult, Yeats was drawn to Theosophy and met Mohini Chatterjee when he visited Dublin in 1885. After this meeting, Yeats wrote three poems (published in 1889) that refered to India: ‘The Indian to his Love’, ‘The Indian upon God’, and ‘Anushuya and Vijaya’. Yeats was further influenced by his reading of the great fourth century Indian poet and dramatist, Kalidasa. Yeats later wrote a poem entitled 'Mohini Chatterjee' (published in 1933 in the collection The Winding Stair and Other Poems).

In 1912, William Rothenstein wrote to Yeats about the need for an introduction for Tagore's Gitanjali which was to be published by the India Society. Yeats sent his introduction to Gitanjali from Dublin. Yeats was instrumental in having a performance of Tagore’s play, The Post Office, performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in October 1913. As he was so prominent in literary circles, Yeats was also linked to other Indian poets such as Sarojini Naidu and Manmohan Ghose, and encouraged a young Indian student at Oxford, G. K. Chettur, to publish his poems in 1922 (for which Chettur dedicated the anthology to Yeats).

Later in life (in the 1930s), Yeats became friends with Purohit Swami. Yeats wrote an introduction to Purohit Swami's book about his Master, Shri Bhagwan Hamsa. They translated the Upanishads together in Majorca in 1935-6. Yeats introduced Purohit Swami to his friend the stage actress Margot Ruddock, who became a disciple of the Swami's.

Despite his many connections, Yeats did not manage to visit India in his lifetime.

Published works: 

The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (London: Kegan Paul, 1889)

'The Way of Wisdom', The Speaker (14 April 1900), pp.40-1

Introduction to Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali (London: India Society, 1912)

Preface to Rabindranath Tagore, The Post Office (London: Macmillan, 1914)

Introduction to Shri Purohit Swami, An Indian Monk (London, Macmillan, 1932)

The Winding Stair and Other Poems (London: Macmillan, 1933)

Introduction to Bhagwan Shri Hamsa, The Holy Mountain (London: Faber & Faber, 1934), translated by Shri Purohit Swami

Shri Purohit Swami and W. B. Yeats, The Ten Principal Upanishads (London: Faber & Faber, 1937)

Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1955)

Secondary works: 

Bachchan, Harbans Rai, W. B. Yeats and Occultism: A Study of his works in relation to Indian lore, the Cabbala, Swedenborg, Boehme and Theosophy (London: Books from India Ltd, 1976)

Boehmer, Elleke, Empire, the National and the Postcolonial, 1890-1920: Resistance in Interaction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

Bridge, Ursula (ed.), W. B. Yeats and T. Sturge Moore: Their Correspondence, 1901-1937 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953)

Chettur, G. K., Sounds and Images (London: Erskine Macdonald, 1922)

Chettur, G. K., The Last Enchantment: Recollections of Oxford (Mangalore: Mangalore Press, 1934)

Dasgupta, R. K., Rabindranath Tagore and William Butler Yeats: The Story of a Literary Friendship (Delhi: University of Delhi, 1965)

Devy, Ganesh N., 'The Indian Yeats', in Toshi Furomoto et al (eds) International Aspects of Irish Literature (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1996), pp.93-106. 

Dutta, Krishna and Robinson, Andrew (eds), Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Finneran, R. J., Harper, G. M., and Murphy, W. H. (eds), Letters to W. B. Yeats, 2 vols (London: Macmillan, 1977)

Harwood, John, Olivia Shakespear and W. B. Yeats. After Long Silence: 1923-1938 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989)

Lago, Mary, 'The Parting of the Ways: a Comparative Study of Yeats and Tagore', India Literature 6.2 (1963)

Lennon, Joseph, Irish Orientalism: A Literary and Intellectual History (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2004)

McHugh, Roger (ed.), Ah Sweet Dancer: W. B Yeats - Margot Ruddock (London: Macmillan, 1970)

Mokashi-Punekar, Shankar, The Later Phase in the Development of W. B. Yeats: A Study in the Stream of Yeats' Later Thought and Creativity (Dharwar: Karnatak University, 1966)

Pitt, Mair, The Maya-Yogi and the Mask: A Study of Rabindranath Tagore and W. B. Yeats (Salzburg: University of Salzburg, 1997)

Rothenstein, William, and Lago, Mary McClelland, Imperfect Encounter: Letters of William Rothenstein and Rabindranath Tagore, 1911-1914, ed., introduction and notes by Mary McClelland Lago (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972)

Williams, Louise Blakeney, 'Overcoming the Contagion of Mimicry: The Cosmopolitan Nationalism and Modernist History of Rabindranath Tagore and W. B. Yeats', The American Historical Review 112.1 (2007), pp. 69-100

Archive source: 

Houghton Library, Harvard University, Boston

John J. Burns Library, Boston College, Boston

National Library of Ireland, Dublin

Correspondence with Rabindranath Tagore, Visva-Bharati Archives, Santiniketan

Correspondence with Purohit Swami, University of Delaware