With winter approaching and the return of curl-up-with-a-good-book weather, Laura Woulfe examines the National Library of Ireland’s dedicated exhibition to Ireland’s most influential writer, W.B. Yeats
Despite this magnificent exhibition not only being free to visit, but also being located on Kildare Street close to a convenient 39A bus stop, it is shameful to admit that I have only just recently set aside time to visit the Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats exhibition.
Apprehensive at first that a literary exhibition might be disappointing after years of visiting displays of visual culture, I discovered the curators have imbued the exhibition space with a wonderfully mystical other-worldly atmosphere. This, combined with the array of early twentieth century photographs and hand-written poetry on yellowed paper, is reminiscent of the office of Albus Dumbledore.
Upon entering the exhibition, you are encouraged to begin with an octagonal seating area while famous voices, including W.B. Yeats himself, recite some of his best known poetry, which any former leaving cert student will recognise, such as Wild Swans at Coole, Easter 1916 and Sailing to Byzantium. This clever addition immediately allows the visitor to establish a familiarity with the exhibition and the work of one of Ireland’s leading poets.
While walking through the exhibition, you are invited to view various objects from throughout the poet’s life. School reports, letters to his sisters and friends, portraits painted of him by his father, a vast display of notebooks with poetry passionately scribbled, many of which are recognisable as some of his greatest works, and even his prized Nobel medal and last pair of spectacles are all on display.
Arguably however, the defining attributes of this exhibition are not the works that are on display, but the four room-like partitions which are used to provide information on the life, influences and legacy of the renowned poet. Each room is equipped with screens that continually play documentaries and each room mirrors one of his four innermost influences.
The short documentaries are categorised to explore different aspects of Yeats’ life. Affairs of the Heart contemplates the influences of the women in Yeats’ life, including his renowned muse Maud Gonne and wife Georgie Hyde Lees, while Players and the Painted Stage is informative of Yeats’ involvement in the establishment of the Abbey Theatre.
The Other World is another insightful looks into the famous writer’s spiritual beliefs and The Mask considers the poet’s role in the politics of Ireland in the turbulent years of the early 20th century.
Each of these rooms are beautifully designed to mirror the subject of relevant documentary, which makes ‘Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats’ more than just a passive exhibition, but rather the National Library of Ireland invites the visitor to journey through every aspect of the iconic W.B. Yeats’ life.
Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats is a permanent exhibition at the National Library of Ireland and admission is free