William Butler Yeats and Maud Gonne MacBride
Few men have waited so long to have their love requited as William Butler Yeats. When the poet first met the Irish Nationalist revolutionary Maud Gonne in 1889, he was enthralled by her beauty and fire. As well as immortalising her in verse, comparing her to Helen of Troy, he proposed to her four times between 1891 and 1901. She turned him down each time, choosing instead to marry a fellow Nationalist, Major John MacBride, in 1903. The marriage was a wreck, and the pair divorced amid accusations of his domestic violence. Gonne and Yeats maintained their friendship, and in 1908 she allowed him to consummate their relationship just once. Both appeared to regret their night together, although Yeats did propose to her once more, in 1916. When she refused, he proposed to her 21-year-old daughter, Iseult, who also rejected him. Finally, he wed the spiritualist Georgie Hyde-Lees, with whom he found a certain contentment. Maude Gonne died alone. But the love she inspired is preserved in Yeats's great poems of romantic yearning.