One advantage of being the national poet of a new nation is that you’ll be sure of some fine memorials after your death. William Butler Yeats, as the national bard of modern Eire, has received condign veneration, not least in the National Gallery of Ireland‘s superb exhibition Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats.
Unfortunately, the online version of the exhibition requires both broadband and Flash, and since the latter is less and less common, is pretty inaccessible for many users. That’s a great shame, because the exhibition is an absorbing multimedia experience, with dioramas, recreated spaces, and audiovisual material to supplement the unparalleled displays of Yeats artifacts and memorabilia. Drawing on over 200 books that Yeats’s family donated to the Library, the exhibition includes manuscript drafts of many of his most famous poems, other notebooks and writing samples – including the mediumistic automatic writing produced by his wife George – paintings such as a portrait of Yeats as a boy by his father, objets d’art like the original Chinese jade that inspired Yeats to write “Lapis Lazuli,” and so on, and on. It’s hard to think of any other modern writer who’s been commemorated by such an evocative show. If you’re a Yeats enthusiast, it’s unmissable; even if you’re not, it’s recommended as a superlative example of modern curating and exhibition design.
The National Gallery of Ireland is a national treasure in itself, and well worth stopping at. But the Yeats exhibition is a jewel, and what’s more, completely free.