RTE Television

WB Yeats: No Country for Old Men

In Ireland, Yeats is rightly regarded as the poet laureate of the new nation. In Britain he is regarded as a romantic, Irish dreamer. But the reality of his life and work after Ireland had won independence was a good deal earthier, and a good deal more interesting. WB Yeats: No Country For Old Men is a new documentary by award-winning director Maurice Sweeney which concentrates on the later work of the great poet and the themes that inspired him as an ageing man. In looking at Yeats' later life and work, the film reveals a very different Yeats to the poet we learnt about in school.

Perhaps Yeats' best known poetry is his early work, poems we all know and love: The Lake Isle of Innisfree, When You Are Old and Easter 1916. However, it is now acknowledged that perhaps Yeats' greatest poems followed his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, when Yeats' life, works and loves had taken a very different direction - and not one that the founding fathers of the nascent Irish nation might have approved of. The film will explore Yeats' complicated - and often unconventional - relationships with women in his latter years and how those relationships gave rise, ultimately, to an unexpected late blossoming of his poetry.

The film also highlights the apparent mystery that surrounds the whereabouts of his final burial place. Yeats died in France at the start of World War II and his 'remains' were not repatriated for many years. Many historians and critics believe that the body that came home to the strains of The Marseillaise and A Nation Once Again was not that of our beloved poet, but that of an Englishman called Alf. The film examines the facts surrounding Yeats' humble original burial and subsequent much-trumpeted repatriation to Ireland - the final, ironic chapter in a life replete with contradiction and irony.

This brand new documentary from RTÉ Arts reveals the Yeats we were not taught about in school. The documentary uncovers not only the brilliant and challenging poetry that never made it into Soundings, but a life - and death - less ordinary. The film contains never before seen footage of Yeats' repatriation to Ireland in 1948, captured by a local film enthusiast and tucked away in the bowels of the Irish Film Archive until now. Contributors include historian Louise Foxcroft, grand-daughter of the man whose remains may lie buried in Drumcliffe; writers Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and John Montague and historian and Yeats biographer, Roy Foster.

*The line "no country for old men" is taken from the poem Sailing To Byzantium from Yeats' 1928 collection, The Tower.

WB Yeats: No Country for Old Men
  • RTÉ One, Tuesday, 10.15pm