Thursday 21 November 2019

WB Yeats - The family man

Michael Yeats with a portrait of his father.
Michael Yeats with a portrait of his father.

Graham Clifford

'Father was really more like our grandfather; it was Mother who kept the house together," said Anne Yeats, WB's only daughter in an interview in 1997.

By the time she was born on May 9th, 1919 her father was approaching his 54th birthday. And when his only son Michael was born on August 22nd, 1921, he'd already turned 56.

His wife, their mother, George Hyde-Lees was 26 years younger than Yeats and it was she who raised the two children with a little help from the Nobel-winning laureate.

Convention wasn't Yeats's forte, and nor did he necessarily want it to be, but his little family was a mainly content one and his children wanted for little.

In that same interview in 1997, Michael Butler Yeats recalled "we were a lot closer to our mother".

Both Yeats children explained that their father was something of a workaholic and said that when he was writing they'd be evacuated to another room.

Anne said: "If he started to wave his hands to the rhythm then we knew it was time to fade away and keep quiet. He couldn't bear voices around him when he was working, or even having someone in the same room."

As they looked back on their childhood years later, Anne and Michael Yeats could only recall joyous times saying that their parents enjoyed each other's company and made sure the home was a haven of love.

"There were never any rows or cold silences. Mother looked after him very well," said Anne who was aged 19 when her father passed away.

In his later years Yeats and Anne grew close. She said: "I got to know Father when I was a teenager."

In her late teens, before she went on to become a renowned artist in her own right, Anne's father asked her to help design sets for productions of two of his plays 'On Baile's Strand' and 'Purgatory'. "That was shortly before he died," she later recalled.

While Yeats's romantic liaisons with other women after he was married caused eye-brows to rise outside of the family home, his children said it never created friction between their parents.

"My mother came to her marriage knowing the form. My father's life was public knowledge," said Michael.

In 1919 soon after Anne's birth her father penned the poem 'A Prayer for My Daughter'.

Irish Independent

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