William Butler Yeats is Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1923 was awarded to William Butler Yeats "for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation".

In December 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was determined to make the most of the occasion. He was aware of the symbolic value of an Irish winner so soon after Ireland had gained independence, and sought to highlight the fact at each available opportunity. His reply to many of the letters of congratulations sent to him contained the words: "I consider that this honor has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature, it is part of Europe's welcome to the Free State." Yeats used the occasion of his acceptance lecture at the Royal Academy of Sweden to present himself as a standard-bearer of Irish nationalism and Irish cultural independence. As he remarked, "The theatres of Dublin were empty buildings hired by the English travelling companies, and we wanted Irish plays and Irish players. When we thought of these plays we thought of everything that was romantic and poetical, because the nationalism we had called up—the nationalism every generation had called up in moments of discouragement—was romantic and poetical." The prize led to a significant increase in the sales of his books, as his publishers Macmillan sought to capitalise on the publicity. For the first time he had money, and he was able to repay not only his own debts, but those of his father.

In racing it sometimes happens, despite all precautions, that some second or third string, put in to make the pace, will romp away from the whole field, including the animal which carried the rosiest hopes of the inspired pacemaker's owner. With some such mixture of exultation and rue as may fill that sportsman's bosom, the inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland have just seen Mr. W. B. Yeats victoriously flashing past the post, as the sporting reports say, for the Nobel Prize for Literature, a guerdon of the value of about £7,500. In the Athens of the best period, according to her greatest historian, a crown of honour was doubly esteemed for running well into money; and in the late Middle Ages, as we hear from Scott's Dugald Dalgetty, a failure to accept any coin freely offered was "a thing seldom seen in a Christian land."