Why a Yeats Initiative?

William Butler Yeats is perhaps most well known for his poem "The Second Coming." Written in 1919, the lines Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold . . . have been quoted many times since in times of turmoil.

Yeats was at the center of numerous artistic and political movements in Ireland and England starting in the late 19th century and into the early 20th century. He was at an early meeting of what would become Sinn Fein. He founded the Irish National Theatre Company. He served as a Senator in the early years of the Free State. And, of course, in 1923 he won the Nobel Prize for literature. Indeed, it is difficult to grapple with the history of Ireland or history of Anglo literature in the 20th century and not encounter WB Yeats. But this actually misses the most exciting point of our initiative.

Yeats and the Irish Dramatic Movement had an outsized influence on world literature and theatre when considering the small island from which they came. Indeed, the widening gyre of Yeats's influence can be detected across the globe. In America, whether we look at Eugene O'Neill or Lorraine Hansberry, we can find strong traces of the Irish Dramatic Movement. In Nigeria, both Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka acknowledge Yeats and his colleagues in the Irish National Theatre as an influence on their works.

The Yeats Initiative at Notre Dame is an opportunity to grapple with the complex legacy of Yeats and his influence on world literature and theatre. It is an opportunity to explore the affinities, convergences, and disparities between Yeats and the current state of literature and theatre.

We welcome the participation of both scholars and the public in our endeavor to explore Yeats and his legacy.

Dr. Julian Breandán Dean
Program Manager, Literature Initiatives
Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies