The Countess Cathleen (1892) is a verse drama by W.B. Yeats. Dedicated to Maud Gonne, an actress and revolutionary whom Yeats unsuccessfully courted for years, The Countess Cathleen underwent several editions before being performed in its final version at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 1911.
Based on an Irish legend, the play, set during a period of intense famine, follows a land-owning Countess who decides to sacrifice her wealth and property in order to save the starving Irish people. As dusk gathers, a family prepares for dinner in their rural home. The fire is lit, and Shemus, the father, has returned home from a day of hunting with nothing to show for it. As they scrounge what they can to make themselves a meal, the Countess Cathleen arrives to ask them for directions. Touched by their suffering, the Countess returns home and begins to wonder what she can do to alleviate their difficult circumstances. Impatient, Shemus yells to the darkening woods to welcome whatever being, angel or devil, that would bring them money or something to eat. When two merchants arrive offering him gold for his services, it appears that the Countess, despite her good intentions, may already be too late. The Countess Cathleen is a drama written in blank verse that explores themes of poverty, faith, and Irish independence.
With a beautifully designed cover and professionally typeset manuscript, this edition of W.B. Yeats’s The Countess Cathleen is a classic of Irish literature reimagined for modern readers.
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About the Author
W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) was an Irish poet. Born in Sandymount, Yeats was raised between Sligo, England, and Dublin by John Butler Yeats, a prominent painter, and Susan Mary Pollexfen, the daughter of a wealthy merchant family. He began writing poetry around the age of seventeen, influenced by the Romantics and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but soon turned to Irish folklore and the mystical writings of William Blake for inspiration. As a young man he joined and founded several occult societies, including the Dublin Hermetic Order and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, participating in séances and rituals as well as acting as a recruiter. While these interests continued throughout Yeats’ life, the poet dedicated much of his middle years to the struggle for Irish independence. In 1904, alongside John Millington Synge, Florence Farr, the Fay brothers, and Annie Horniman, Yeats founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, which opened with his play Cathleen ni Houlihan and Lady Gregory’s Spreading the News and remains Ireland’s premier venue for the dramatic arts to this day. Although he was an Irish Nationalist, and despite his work toward establishing a distinctly Irish movement in the arts, Yeats—as is evident in his poem “Easter, 1916”—struggled to identify his idealism with the sectarian violence that emerged with the Easter Rising in 1916. Following the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, however, Yeats was appointed to the role of Senator and served two terms in the position. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, and continued to write and publish poetry, philosophical and occult writings, and plays until his death in 1939.