On this day in 1939, poet and patriot William Butler Yeats said farewell to the world from the south of France. Yeats spent many of his winters in France and in Italy due to life-long health issues but he always left his heart in Ireland, even after death. He told his wife George to bury him quietly in the hills above Monaco but “to dig me up and plant me in Sligo” a year later when he thought everyone would have forgotten about him. That idea is laughable given that he is still revered and remembered today.
Mrs. Yeats had a hard time honoring her husband’s wishes. As news of his death spread, thousands of Irish people and many politicians pushed her to have a large, public funeral. She quickly stuck to William’s request and had him buried in Roquebrune before too many people got involved. She intended to re-inter him quietly in Sligo a year later, but the second World War and other unforeseen circumstances put those plans on hold for nearly a decade. Even then, no one in Ireland had forgotten their beloved poet at all, and the Irish government stepped in to help get Yeats’ remains back to the home he loved. His body traveled to Galway in a Navy warship and the funeral procession up to Sligo was vast. Thousands of people lined the streets as the car drove slowly to its final destination.
He was finally given the public, state funeral that so many had wanted nearly ten years after he died. No one had forgotten Yeats in the meantime. He gave so much to Ireland throughout his life. He founded the Abbey Theater, he spread Nationalist ideals through his eloquent writing and social connections, he championed Maud Gonne – the well-known and adored voice of women’s suffrage and Irish revolution, he became an Irish politician, and he captured the feelings and emotions of the Irish struggle in nearly everything he wrote.
Ireland still has not forgotten him and neither has anywhere or anyone else.
“I balanced all, brought all to mind, the years to come seem waste of breath, a waste of breath the years behind, in balance with this life, this death.” ~ W. B. Yeats
Thank you. The gravesite is a sacred place to me for so many reasons; despite the fact that there has been some conjecture about whether or not Yeats is actually buried there. His remains may or may not be, but he’s there, in one form or another.
I choose to believe that he is there, and as long as people do, his spirit will be.