The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats

I have a confession to make, virtually every weekend I go into Town early on Saturday morning and my first port of call is always the National Library. (Dubliner’s refer to Dublin as Town not City).

The Yeats permanent exhibition opened in the National Library on the 25th May 2006 and two years on, I’m still drawn to visit and I never tire of looking at the exhibits. I also have to confess, that regularly when I am in the West of Ireland, usually on my way to Barry’s in Grange for a gig, I never pass Drumcliff without stopping and visiting Yeats grave. “Cast a cold Eye On Life, on Death, Horseman pass by”. I suppose it’s pretty obvious now that Yeats is my favourite poet.

The exhibit pieces I find most amusing are just inside the door, turn right look in the first case, Yeats Childhood. Here you will see a Yeats 1883 Dublin High School Report where his marks in English are adequate and his teacher reports “this boy’s taking up French and German simultaneously with Latin and Greek is ruinous to him” and his Goldophin School Report from 1877 where his teacher reports “only this, perhaps better in Latin than any other subject, very poor spelling”. Excellent, the winner of the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature was average in English and couldn’t spell, there is hope for me yet. There are also letters to his sister Lily, one in particular I like where he complains he has lost the original cipher and could she send it to him so that he can finish his secret message to her.

W. B. Yeats, He wishes for the clothes of Heaven, handwritten by the poetThen there are the video exhibits, my favourite is The Abbey Theatre, probably because I love the Theatre and particularly I love going to the Abbey. Then believe it or not, in the The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics case, you will find handwritten by Yeats my favourite poem “He wishes for the Clothes of Heaven”. This is my very favourite piece and I’d rather have that scrap of paper than win the lottery!

He wishes for the Clothes of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams

The Yeats Collection contains various manuscripts written by or relating to William Butler Yeats. There are more than 2000 items, stored in 100 archival boxes, taking up 26 yards of shelves. It is the biggest collection of Yeats manuscripts in the world. The manuscripts were donated to the National Library of Ireland by his wife Mrs. George Yeats and his son Michael Yeats. The manuscripts were given to the Library over a period of years; 1959 to 2002. The exhibition is a priceless experience and I highly recommend you visit. Personally I’d spend days there browsing through the stuff, and considering taking up residence at The National Library of Ireland if they let me! Realistically you do need to dedicate a couple of hours to savour the experience. Enjoy!

The Life & Works of William Butler Yeats is a permanent collection at the National Library of Ireland. Admission is Free.

If you are unable to travel to Ireland, don’t despair, you can still enjoy the exhibition as the National Library have done an excellent job in providing an Online Experience visit it here

Book Crossing

250 anthologies of poetry by WB Yeats were set free in Dublin on Monday, July 9th, 2007 by the National Library of Ireland. The books which were left on trains, buses, cafes, pubs, hotels and public spaces throughout the city were distinctively labelled with an invitation to savour the work of the great poet and a request to leave the book in another public place for someone else to enjoy. If you find one of the books, visit and register your find.