William Butler Yeats’s Autobiographies, originally published in 1955, is a collection of essays written by a man many consider to have been the greatest poet in the English language. The first essays, ‘‘Reveries Over Childhood and Youth’’ (1915) and ‘‘The Trembling of the Veil,’’ (1922), cover Yeats’s life through his late twenties. In 1936, another four autobiographical essays were published, ‘‘Dramatis Personae,’’ ‘‘Estrangement,’’ ‘‘The Death of Synge,’’ and ‘‘The Bounty of Sweden,’’ extending Autobiographies well into the poet’s fifties, when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
While the information contained in these essays is roughly in chronological order, Yeats’s goal seems to be not to catalogue exact details about his life but to deliver a sense of how he became the man he was. The pages of his autobiography are filled with the names of hundreds of friends and enemies and of societies formed and joined, contributing to a picture of a man passionate for Ireland and Irish nationalism. Writing from the vantage point of the early part of the twentieth century, Yeats acknowledges many of his past errors in judgment and admits to some bitterness over attempted projects that did not end well. In the later pages of his autobiography, Yeats covers his years of contributing to the Abbey Theater in Dublin, a place in which he made his long-time dream of an Irish national dramatic movement a reality. In addition, in the essays, Yeats reveals his increasing fascination throughout his life with the supernatural and mysticism.