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Victorian Book of the Month: Crossing into modernism

June 13 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). The selection for June’s Victorian Book of the Month is one of his most significant early poetry collections, The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics (1892). It includes such famous poems as “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “When You are Old.”

countess kathleenYeats’ first poetry collection was published in 1889. As his career progressed into the 20th century he also became a prolific playwright. Yeats’ writing reflected his interest in Ireland’s heritage — part of the “Celtic revival” in art, design, and literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was also influenced by occultism and the nationalist movement which transformed Irish politics during his lifetime. Today, Yeats is celebrated as a major Irish writer as well as an early force in literary modernism.

Special Collections contains many examples of Yeats’ poetry and drama in first editions, including a number of works printed by his sister Elizabeth Yeats at her private press, the Cuala Press.

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