Top 50+ William Butler Yeats Quotes

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William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and dramatist, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years Yeats served as an Irish Senator for two terms. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival, and along with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn founded the Abbey Theatre, serving as its chief during its early years. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for what the Nobel Committee described as “inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.” He was the first Irishman so honored. Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929).

Yeats was born and educated in Dublin but spent his childhood in County Sligo. He studied poetry in his youth, and from an early age was fascinated by both Irish legends and the occult. Those topics feature in the first phase of his work, which lasted roughly until the turn of the century. His earliest volume of verse was published in 1889, and those slow paced and lyrical poems display debts to Edmund Spenser and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as to the Pre-Raphaelite poets. From 1900, Yeats’ poetry grew more physical and realistic. He largely renounced the transcendental beliefs of his youth, though he remained preoccupied with physical and spiritual masks, as well as with cyclical theories of life.

1. The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper

2. I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

3. For he would be thinking of love Till the stars had run away And the shadows eaten the moon.

4. Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

5. Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

6. When You Are Old

WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

7. Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

8. Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.

9. A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him up for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.

10. Life is a long preparation for something that never happens

11. Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O Never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost

12. But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

13. What can be explained is not poetry.

14. Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.

15. There is another world, but it is in this one.

16. WINE comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and sigh.

17. THAT crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea

18. Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.

19. Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.

20. In dreams begin responsibilities.

21. Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

22. How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

23. I’m looking for the face I had, before the world was made

24. Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.

25. Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.

26. There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet.

27. I bring you with reverent hands The books of my numberless dreams

28. I will arise and go now,
And go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there,
Of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there,
A hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there,
For peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning
To where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer,
And noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings

I will arise and go now,
For always night and day
I hear lake water lapping
With low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway
Or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

29. All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions.

30. The worst thing about some men is that when they are not drunk they are sober.

31. To long a sacrifice can make a stone of a heart

32. Any fool can fight a winning battle, but it needs character to fight a losing one, and that should inspire us; which reminds me that I dreamed the other night that I was being hanged, but was the life and soul of the party.

33. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

34. I know that I shall meet my fate somewhere among the clouds above; those that I fight I do not hate, those that I guard I do not love.

35. Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.

36. Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned By those who are not entirely beautiful.

37. Hope and Memory have one daughter and her name is Art, and she has built her dwelling far from the desperate field where men hang out their garments upon forked boughs to be banners of battle. O beloved daughter of Hope and Memory, be with me for a while.

38. When you are old and grey and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep

39. Wine enters through the mouth,
Love, the eyes.
I raise the glass to my mouth,
I look at you,
I sigh

40. We can only begin to live when we conceive life as Tragedy.

41. We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet

42. If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed:
I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.

43. Myself I must remake

44. It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield

45. The Cat and the Moon

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.

46. One should say before sleeping: I have lived many lives. I have been a slave and a prince. Many a beloved has sat upon my knee and I have sat upon the knees of many a beloved. Everything that has been shall be again.

47. Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.

48. And softness came from the starlight and filled me full to the bone.

49. Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

50. Think where man’s glory
Most begins and ends
And say my glory was
That I had such friends.

51. We taste and feel and see the truth. We do not reason ourselves into it.

52. God spreads the heavens above us like great wings
And gives a little round of deeds and days,
And then come the wrecked angels and set snares,
And bait them with light hopes and heavy dreams,
Until the heart is puffed with pride and goes
Half shuddering and half joyous from God’s peace;
And it was some wrecked angel, blind with tears,
Who flattered Edane’s heart with merry words.

Come, faeries, take me out of this dull house!
Let me have all the freedom I have lost;
Work when I will and idle when I will!
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.

I would take the world
And break it into pieces in my hands
To see you smile watching it crumble away.

Once a fly dancing in a beam of the sun,
Or the light wind blowing out of the dawn,
Could fill your heart with dreams none other knew,
But now the indissoluble sacrament
Has mixed your heart that was most proud and cold
With my warm heart for ever; the sun and moon
Must fade and heaven be rolled up like a scroll
But your white spirit still walk by my spirit.

When winter sleep is abroad my hair grows thin,
My feet unsteady. When the leaves awaken
My mother carries me in her golden arms;
I’ll soon put on my womanhood and marry
The spirits of wood and water, but who can tell
When I was born for the first time?

The wind blows out of the gates of the day,
The wind blows over the lonely of heart,
And the lonely of heart is withered away;
While the faeries dance in a place apart,
Shaking their milk-white feet in a ring,
Tossing their milk-white arms in the air;
For they hear the wind laugh and murmur and sing
Of a land where even the old are fair,
And even the wise are merry of tongue;
But I heard a reed of Coolaney say–
When the wind has laughed and murmured and sung,
The lonely of heart is withered away.

53. People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.

54. Literature is always personal, always one man’s vision of the world, one man’s experience, and it can only be popular when men are ready to welcome the visions of others.

55.Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise

56. Hearts are not to be had as a gift, hearts are to be earned.

57. Everything exists, everything is true and the earth is just a bit of dust beneath our feet.

58. I whispered, ‘I am too young,’ and then, ‘I am old enough’; wherefore I threw a penny to find out if I might love.

59. My wretched dragon is perplexed.

60. Love comes in at the eye

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