WB Yeats goes Underground to celebrate his birthday

Londoners and visitors to the UK’s capital city are set to enjoy the poetry of William Butler Yeats – underground  –  in this special 150th birthday year of the Irish Nobel-winning poet.

Yeats2015, the year-long celebration of the poet, has partnered with Poems on the Underground to bring a selection of Irish poetry to thousands of train carriages on the London Underground in March, April, June, July, October and November.

Poems on the Underground was set up by American writer Judith Chernaik in 1986. She and her committee are determined to bring poetry to a wider audience and now have a solid partnership with Transport for London in an ambitious annual event to place poetry before millions of Tube passengers.

Ms Chernaik said: “We are delighted to celebrate Yeats2015 with a special set of poems by Irish poets and we hope that people will love them as much as we do.”

The Yeats’ selection includes the beautiful He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, number ten in the BBC’s Nation’s Favourite Poems and the first stanza of Sailing to Byzantium , written by Yeats in 1926. “I am trying to write about the state of my soul” Yeats said in 1931 when asked about this poem; his great metaphorical journey in search of permanence in the face of mortality.

Other Irish poets to feature on Poems on the Underground this year include Louis MacNeice, Eavan Boland and Ireland’s Chair of Poetry Paula Meehan.  Famous Mayo poet, Antoine O’Raifteirí, blinded by smallpox in the late 18th century, is also included, with the famous opening  line ‘I am Raftery the  poet, full of hope and love’. The poem was translated from Irish to English by W.B Yeats’ dear friend Lady Augusta Gregory.

Irish Ambassador to the UK, Dan Mulhall, himself a Yeats scholar, has also welcomed this initiative. “Millions of London commuters and visitors to the city will be able to enjoy some gems of Irish poetry.  It is especially fitting that two poems by W.B Yeats are being displayed on the London Underground as part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the poet’s Yeats birth, for Yeats spent many years of his life in London and his work continues to enjoy enormous popularity with British people.”

Indeed Yeats lived in Bedford as the District Line was being built and returned there in 1887, famously writing the Lake Isle of Inisfree from Bedford Park. He spent much time in the Art Library  of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and one imagines he must have regularly travelled there by train, taking the district line from Turnham Green to South Kensington. On those journeys as a young man he could surely never have envisaged that his own work would be displayed on the underground one hundred and fifty years later for millions of commuters to enjoy.

Director of Poetry Ireland Maureen Kennelly said “Poetry Ireland is thrilled with this fantastic initiative to bring Irish poetry to the heart of London. There is a particular resonance between poems and trains and presenting poetry in this way ensures that it reaches an exceptionally wide audience.”

Yeats2015 is supported by the Department of Arts, Heritage & Gaeltacht.  Poems on the Underground is supported by The Poetry Society, British Council, TfL, Arts Council of England and Mayor of London.

Transport for London will also print 100,000 copies of Celebrating Irish Poetry for free distribution on the Tube this year. A Penguin anthology Poems on the Underground will be published on March 26th 2015. It includes poetry by Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney and  Nuala NiDhomhnaill among others.

See the list of Yeats Poems on the Underground for March 2015 on Transport For London’s website.

Have you seen any #Yeats2015 poems on the Tube? Tweet us the image @yeats2015wb Did it inspire you like it did Joanna Lilly?

Joanna Lilly