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William Butler Yeats papers

Identifier: MSS 0126

Scope and Content Note

The William Butler Yeats papers, composed of correspondence, one poem, photographs, a program, lecture notes, a quotation, a manuscript fragment, and photocopies, spans the dates 1890 to 1940. The bulk of the collection dates between 1931 and 1938. The correspondence, comprising the bulk of the collection, reveals personal and professional aspects of the famed Irish poet's life, especially his translation work with Shree Purohit Swami.

The collection is arranged in three series, with the first series, William Butler Yeats correspondence, comprising more than 80 percent of the collection. Series two consists of manuscripts written by Yeats; and the final series includes miscellaneous items related to William Butler Yeats.

Series I. has four subseries: I.1. Yeats's letters to Shree Purohit Swami, I.2. photocopies of Shree Purohit Swami's letters to Yeats, I.3. Yeats's letters to other individuals, and I.4. one letter written by Georgiana Yeats. The correspondence in these series touches on many aspects of Yeats's life and interest, including his poetry, writing plays, Irish nationalism, and exploration of spiritual matters.

More than sixty-five letters written by Yeats to Shree Purohit Swami are available in this collection, as are photocopies of Shree Purohit Swami's letters to Yeats covering the same time period (1931-1938). Shree Purohit Swami's letters to Yeats were copied from originals in the Yeats Archive in the Frank Melville, Jr., Memorial Library at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, as part of a reciprocal exchange in 1984.

In the 1930s Yeats translated, with Shree Purohit Swami, The Ten Principal Upanishads (1937). Much of the correspondence between Yeats and Shree Purohit Swami regards translation of the Upanishads and Yeats's preface to the volume. However, Yeats also inquires about Shree Purohit Swami's life; remarks on his own on health and travels; mentions Cuala Press, writing projects, and mutual friends; and comments on a controversy between Shree Purohit Swami and Mrs. Foden. The mutual respect and friendship between the two men, as well as their similar devotion to exploring mystical principles is obvious in their letters.

In addition to the correspondence between Yeats and Shree Purohit Swami, the collection includes one or more letters from Yeats to a number of other individuals, including the following: Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper (who share the pseudonym, Michael Field), Lady Gregory, Martin Harvey, John O'Leary, Herbert E. Palmer, Herman T. Radin, Ernest Rhys, Laura Riding, and Mr. Thomson. Yeats's letters reflect many of his interests, such as Irish nationalism, Irish folklore, play writing, and poetry. Highlights include his thoughts on Hamlet, performances of which Yeats refers to as "my supreme religious event" (written to Martin Harvey); his thoughts on poetry as written in response to poetry sent by the young poet, Herbert Palmer; his comments on his methods of writing plays as expressed to Katharine Bradley, Edith Cooper, and Wilfrid Blunt; and his thoughts on Charles Parnell as expressed to the Irish patriot John O'Leary. In his letters to Lady Gregory he comments on the success of the Abbey Players in the United States and discusses a controversy involving Sean O'Casey.

Series II. includes three of W. B. Yeats's holograph manuscripts, each of which is a unique item, with no evident connection to the other manuscripts. The two undated items are a poem titled "To an Isle in the Water" and a nine-line fragment which Yeats signed. The final manuscript is a two-line quotation from The Countess Kathleen, copied on a card and signed by Yeats. The card was originally tipped in a copy of Yeats's Autobiographies (Special Collections call number: SPEC PR 5906 .A53).

Four miscellaneous items are arranged in Series III: Yeats's copy of Philips' Handy Classical Atlas (undated), four photographs of Yeats taken during his 1903 arrival in New York for his first American lecture tour, and a program for a 1904 lecture. The fourth item, seven pages of manuscript notes for a lecture on the power of symbols, which Yeats delivered to The Order of the Golden Dawn, circa 1895, illustrates Yeats's interest in mysticism.

Preservation photocopies of the material in this collection (with the exception of Philips' Handy Classical Atlas) are available in Box 2 of the collection. The folders of preservation copies are labeled with folder numbers which parallel housing for the original material.


  • Creation: 1890-1940
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1931-1938


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Restrictions on Access

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S.Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

William Butler Yeats, one of the twentieth century's best known poets, was also an accomplished Irish playwright and co-founder of the Irish Literary Theatre.

Born on June 13, 1865, in Sandymount, Ireland, as the eldest child of the renowned Irish painter, John Butler Yeats, W. B. Yeats was educated at Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin, from 1884-1886.

The year 1885 was pivotal in Yeats's early life. His first published work, "Mosada: a dramatic poem," appeared in the March issue of the Dublin University Review and Yeats was introduced to John O'Leary, a famous Irish patriot and exponent of Irish nationalism. Through O'Leary's encouragement Yeats began to write poetry based on Irish legends, folklore, ballads, and songs, a practice he was to continue for the remainder of his life.

Yeats's commitment to all things Irish was strengthened by his three-decade-long relationship to Maud Gonne, a prominent and passionate supporter of Irish nationalism. With Gonne's encouragement Yeats produced such nationalistic plays as The Countess Kathleen (1892) and Cathleen nĂ­ Houlihan (1902).

Yeats's interest in occultism and spiritualism, also shared by Maud Gonne, began in the 1880s, first with theosophy, and later with the Golden Dawn, a secret society that practiced ritual magic. Yeats was initiated into the Golden Dawn in 1890 and remained an active member for thirty-two years, exploring mystical insights, becoming involved in the group's direction, and in 1914, meeting his future wife, Georgiana Hyde-Lees, who had entered membership. Some of Yeats's poetry - particularly the poems in The Wind among the Reeds- employed spiritualist symbolism.

By the turn of the century Yeats' had become interested in theater. In 1897, Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, and Edward Martyn devised plans to promote innovative, native Irish drama. In 1899, they began support of annual productions in Dublin. The success of these productions led to the founding of the Irish National Theatre Society, with Yeats as president, and a renovated Abbey Theatre in Dublin as its home. Yeats was active in management of the Abbey Theatre company through the first fifteen years of the twentieth century.

In December 1922 Yeats accepted a six-year appointment to the Senate of the Irish Free State and assumed permanent residency in Dublin, considering himself a representative of order amid the chaos of civil war. He had also become a world renowned writer, receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

Although Yeats was keenly aware of his own aging and health complications during his last fifteen years, he continued to appreciate life and produce remarkable poetry and plays. He also wrote a variety of fiction, edited volumes of Irish folk tales, wrote several volumes of autobiography, and in the 1930s translated, with Shree Purohit Swami, The Ten Principal Upanishads(1937).

William Butler Yeats died on January 28, 1939, in Roquebrune, France. Draper, James P. and Susan M. Trosky (eds.) Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, Volume 45. New York: Gale Research, Inc., 1995. pp. 483-491. Legg, L. G. Wickham (ed.) The Dictionary of National Biography, 1931-1940. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. pp. 928-932. Stanford, Donald E. (ed.) Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 19: British Poets, 1880-1914. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1983. pp. 399-452.


.6 linear foot (2 boxes)


The papers of William Butler Yeats, prominent Irish poet, are composed of correspondence with Shree Purohit Swami and other literary figures, holograph manuscripts, and a few miscellaneous items.


Purchases, 1980-1987.

Materials Available in Alternative Format

Preservation photocopies of the material in this collection (with the exception of Philips' Handy Classical Atlas) are available in Box 2 of the collection. The folders of preservation copies are labeled with folder numbers which parallel housing for the original material.

Related Materials in this Repository

MSS 0099, F0325 William Butler Yeats note to George MacDonald

MSS 0136 Frank J. Hugh O'Donnell papers

Shelving Summary

Boxes 1-2: Shelved in SPEC v. MSS


Preliminary processing in 1980, completed by Anita A. Wellner, June 1999. Encoded by Jaime Margalotti, 2006.

Finding aid for William Butler Yeats papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2006 April 17
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA