If you’re re-visiting Dublin after many years, and a sign for a W.B. Yeats exhibition outside the National Library on Kildare St looks familiar, don’t be alarmed by déja-vu. It’s the exhibition that opened nine years ago and never left town. But in this the 150th anniversary year of one of Ireland’s most celebrated poet’s birth, resist the urge to pass it by.
Yeats was one of Ireland’s four Nobel Laureates. His poetry is accessible, lyrical, and near universally liked by those familiar with it. With so many memorable lines about places and people of beauty, growing old, as well as famous events in Irish history, it’s unsurprising that his lyrics endure.
The National Library provides a superb exhibition documenting Yeats’ life. From his Sligo origins to his early poetry; his lifelong infatuation with Maud Gonne to his perennial interests in mysticism; his work establishing the Abbey Theatre and the Gaelic Literary Revival – the exhibition covers it all. Each phase of his life is covered through incisive text (on posters and on screen) and showcases of his belongings and early editions of his impressive output of books. It outlines Yeats’ attachment to certain places, both abroad (in Europe and America) and where he grew up, landmarks now known as ‘Yeats country’.
Among the artefacts on display are talismans pertaining to the occult and his notebooks about Golden Dawn, the esoteric society of which he was a member. His Nobel Prize medal and the top hat he wore when receiving it are displayed, as is a speech he wrote for a 1920s Senate debate on divorce legislation in which he participated with great gusto. The recognisable spectacles he wore in his final years are also on view.
The sprinkling throughout the display of handwritten texts by the author about spiritualism testify to his intense interest in the area and magic. Anyone interested in the process of writing will enjoy the exhibits of his hand-written early drafts of poems. The displays on certain key events during his life, such as the 1916 Rising, contain well produced, short videos featuring interviews with experts.
‘I write my poems for the Irish people but I’m damned if I will have them at my funeral,’ Yeats once wrote. Whatever about the people, his lyrics came with him to the grave, literally.
Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death
Horseman, pass by!
The exhibition is expected to be refreshed as part of the 150th anniversary, but don’t just pass it by if you’re here, particularly on a second coming.