Born in Dublin, in 1865, the firstborn of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Yeats. In 1877, W.B. entered Godolphin school, which he attended for four years, after which he continued his education at Erasmus Smith High School, in Dublin. For a time (from 1884 - 1886), he attended the Metropolitan School of Art.
In 1885, Yeats' first poems were published, in the Dublin University Review.
In 1889, Yeats met Maud Gonne, a young heiress who was beginning to devote herself to the Irish nationalist movement. Gonne admired Yeats' early poem The Isle of Statues and sought out his acquaintance. Yeats developed an obsessive infatuation with Gonne, and she was to have a significant effect on his poetry and his life ever after. Two years after, he proposed to Maud, but was rejected. In 1896, he met Lady Gregory, and began an affair with Olivia Shakespeare, which ended one year later. Lady Gregory encouraged Yeats' nationalism and convinced him to continue focusing on writing drama. In 1899, Yeats again proposed to Maud, and was again rejected. He prosed again in 1900, and again in 1901; in 1903, Maud Gonne married Irish nationalist John MacBride, and Yeats visited America on a lecture tour.
Yeats spent the summer of 1917 with Maud Gonne, and proposed to Maud's daughter, but was rejected. In September, he proposed to George Hyde-Lees, was accepted, and the two were married on the 20th of October.
Yeats' early poetry drew heavily on Irish myth and legend, however his later work was engaged with more contemporary issues. His style also underwent a dramatic transformation. Yeats' work can be divided into three general periods. His earliest work is lushly pre-Raphaelite in tone, self-consciously ornate, and at times, according to unsympathetic critics, stilted. Yeats began by writing epic poems: The Isle of Statues and The Wanderings of Oisin. After Oisin, he never attempted another long poem. His other early poems are lyrics on the themes of love or mystical and esoteric subjects. Yeats' middle period, after he came under the influence of Ezra Pound, saw him abandon the pre-Raphaelite character of his early work and attempt to turn himself into a Landor-style social ironist. Critics who admire his middle work might characterize it as supple and muscular in its rhythms and sometimes harshly modernist, while others find these poems barren and weak in imaginative power. Yeats' later work found new imaginative inspiration in the mystical system he began to work out for himself under the influence of spiritualism. In many ways, this poetry is a return to the vision of his earlier work. The opposition between the worldly-minded man of the sword and the spiritually-minded man of God, the theme of The Wanderings of Oisin, is reproduced in A Dialogue Between Self and Soul.
Some critics claim that Yeats spanned the transition from the nineteenth century into twentieth-century modernism in poetry much as Pablo Picasso did in painting. Others question whether late Yeats really has much in common with modernists of the Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot variety. Modernists read the well-known poem The Second Coming as a dirge for the decline of European civilization in the mode of Eliot, but later critics have pointed out that this poem is an expression of Yeats' apocalyptic mystical theories, and thus the expression of a mind shaped by the 1890s.
He was highly interested in mysticism, and attended his first sťance in 1886. Later, Yeats became heavily involved with hermeticist and theosophical beliefs, and in 1900 he became head of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which he joined in 1890. That same year, maintaining his interest in the literary arts, Yeats cofounded the Rhymer's Club with John Rhys.
All his life, Yeats maintained friendships with a number of poets and literary figures; for a time in 1913, Ezra Pound served as Yeats' secretary. Yeats was also known and respected by Oscar Wilde, John Millington Synge, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, among others.
Yeats, after suffering from a variety of illnesses for a number of years, died in France eight months before the outbreak of World War II. His body was interred at Roquebrune, until it was moved to Drumecliff, Sligo in September, 1948.
Also, the concluding lines
For the anti-democratic Yeats, 'the best' referred to the traditional ruling classes of Europe, who were unable to protect the traditional culture of Europe from materialistic mass movements. For later readers, 'the best' and 'the worst' have been redefined to fit their own political views.
This refers to Yeats' belief that history was cyclic, and that his age represented the end of the cycle that began with the rise of Christianity.
Also, the concluding lines