WB Yeats letter archive set for $460,000 sale?

Sotheby’s is to offer a hugely important archive of letters from celebrated Irish poet WB Yeats (1865-1939).

All 133 letters will sell as a single lot with an estimate of up to £350,000 ($459,900) in the dedicated Yeats: The Family Collection auction in London on September 27.

Yeats letters Sothebys

WB Yeats is one of Ireland's most acclaimed poets 

The letters are addressed to the novelist Olivia Shakespear (1863-1938), a close friend of Yeats with whom he had a brief fling between 1896 and 1897.

The letters date from 1894, when they met, to the mid 1930s. They cover around 40 years in the lives of these major literary figures.

Shakespear was a key figure in Yeats’ timeline and regularly appears in his poetry.

She formed the nucleus of his classic 1899 collection of poems The Wind Among the Reads, where she is referred to simply as “beloved”.

Most of the archive dates to the 1920s and 1930s. There is scant reference to their early relationship and the impression given is of an enduring platonic friendship.

However, in one letter from 1927, Yeats writes of his regret in not being more forward as a younger man: “I came upon two early photographs of you yesterday, while going through my file — one from ‘Literary Year Book’.

“Who ever had a like profile? — a profile from a Sicilean coin. One looks back at ones youth as to a cup that a madman dying of thirst left half tasted.

"I wonder if you feel like that."

Current events are also dissected.

Ireland was, during the early 1920s, embroiled in a bitter fight for independence from Britain.

Yeats writes movingly of the mood at the time: “…All we can see from our window is beautiful & quiet & has been so; yet three miles off near Coole, which is close to a main road the black & tans flogged young men & then tied them to their lorries by the heels & dragged them along the road till their bodies were torn to pieces.

“I wonder will literature be much changed by that most momentous of events, the return of evil…”

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