MAUD GONNE

Today is the birthday of the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, the lifelong muse of poet W.B. Yeats, born in Surrey, England (1865). She and Yeats first met when they were both 25 years old. He fell in love with her immediately and remained in love for the rest of his life.

Maud Gonne was tall and beautiful. Yeats wrote: “I had never thought to see in a living woman such great beauty. A complexion like the blossom of apples. Her movements were worthy of her form.”

Yeats asked her to marry him in 1891, but she refused. It was the first of many times that she rejected his marriage proposals. But they remained close to each other throughout their lives, and agreed that they had a “spiritual union.”

In response to one of Yeats’ many marriage proposals, Maud Gonne told him: “You would not be happy with me. … You make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry.”

In 1911, she wrote a letter to him and said, “Our children were your poems of which I was the father sowing the unrest & storm which made them possible & you the mother who brought them forth in suffering & in the highest beauty.”

Maud Gonne campaigned for land reform, helped tenants fight eviction, advocated for political prisoners, began a program that fed lunch to Dublin schoolkids, and founded the Daughters of Erin. Yeats wrote many poems for her, including “When You are Old” and “Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.”