W. B. Yeats (Dublin, 1865 – Menton, France, 1939) paid many visits to France but, as elsewhere, his hold on the physical aspects of his surroundings always appears less than total. Perhaps, as the critic Patrick Rafroidi puts it, “Yeats had a sense of observation all right, but he was not interested in cities. …He does not ‘see’ anything. …Yeats wants to see ‘through’ things.”
Yeats returned to Paris at the beginning of December 1896, this time staying at that most emblematic place in Irish Paris, the Hôtel Corneille at number 5 in the street of the same name (6th arrondissement). Characteristically, Yeats later couldn’t remember why on earth he took a room there since he “thought it expensive”. Nor could he remember the person that introduced him to the “poor Irishman at the top of the house”, who turned out to be John Millington Synge. Yeats and Synge became friends, but Yeats soon moved out of the Hôtel Corneille because while “Synge’s biographer says that you boarded there for a pound a week…I was accustomed to cook my own breakfast, and dine at an Anarchist restaurant in the Boulevard St. Jacques for little over a shilling.” So it was that by January 1897, Yeats was staying at the Grand Hôtel de de la Haute Loire at 203, bvd. Raspail (14th arrondissement).
In the meantime, he had gone to see the first night of Ubu Roi at the Theatre de l’Oeuvre in rue Ballu (9th arrondissement, building no longer exists). Seeing Ubu Roi was, in the words of critic John Kelly, yet another Parisian experience that was to have a “cathartic effect” on Yeats’ thinking. On New Year’s Day 1897, Synge had accompanied Maud Gonne to the inaugural meeting of the Association irlandaise in rue des Martyrs (9th arrondissement). Just over two months later, Yeats wrote to another Irish group in Paris, the Association de Saint Patrice, to repudiate the suggestion by one of its members that Gonne was an English spy.
Yeats passed through Paris several times after the First World War, often on his way to the south of France. But by this stage Maud Gonne had left Paris, so perhaps Yeats felt less need for lengthy stays. His last meaningful visit may well have been in January 1922, when Sinn Féin invited him to give a talk at the Irish Race Congress, held in the Grand Hôtel at 2, rue Scribe (9th arrondissement). The same month also saw the opening of a major Irish art exhibition in Paris.
Autobiographies (1955) W. B. Yeats
Uncollected Prose, vols. 1 and 2 (1970)
W. B. Yeats, Ed. John P. Frayne
W.B. Yeats, the Man and the Milieu (1997)
Maud Gonne – W.B. Yeats, letters 1893-1938 (1992)
Ed. Anna MacBride White and A. Norman Jeffares
Yeats: The Man and his Masks (1987) Richard Ellmann
W. B. Yeats – A Life i. The Apprentice Mage (1998) ii. The Arch Poet (2003)
W.B. Yeats—Man and Poet (1962, 2nd edition)
A. Norman Jeffares
A W.B. Yeats chronology (2003)
Yeats’ Ghosts: the Secret Life of W.B. Yeats (1999)
W.B. Yeats, a Literary Life (1995)
Alasdair D. F. Macrae
Yeats the European (1989)