Yeats’ biographer Professor Roy Foster delivers inaugural WB Yeats Bedford Park lecture

Image above: Professor Roy Foster; photograph Anne-Marie Fyfe

Marking 100 years since WB Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature

Guest blog by Cahal Dallat

A unique occasion on Thursday night, and a fitting conclusion to a year of WB Yeats Nobel Prize Centenary celebrations, when world-leading Yeats expert, Roy Foster delivered the inaugural WB Yeats Bedford Park Lecture.

Unique, as it’s the first occasion on which, as the London-Irish poet’s authorised biographer, Professor Foster has lectured in Yeats’s boyhood London neighbourhood of Bedford Park where the Nobel-Prize-winner lived, firstly, as a schoolboy with his migrant family, and where he later created some of the world’s best-loved poems and wrote his first staged play.

The latter led to the creation of Dublin’s world-famous Abbey Theatre which, together with his status as an internationally recognised poet resulted, as Foster pointed out, in his acclaim by the Swedish Academy where he travelled to accept his award 100 years ago last week.

Image above: Roy Foster begins his lecture on Yeats’s Nobel Prize, at St Michael & All Angels Church

Foster’s lecture not only explored the reasons for the Academy’s award but Yeats’s acceptance speech in which he recognised the Award’s importance for the newly independent Ireland that the cultural revival he began in 1890s Bedford Park had done much to facilitate.

But, with his detailed knowledge of Yeats’s poetry and letters – having recorded the poet’s development and later career in two magisterial volumes – Foster was also able to point out the tension between Yeats’s insistence that the Award was apolitical, and his sense that politics, in a Europe still very much in conflict five years after the end of the Great War, was becoming increasingly divisive and troubling.

Foster’s championing of Yeats as an international figure whose writings had global, rather than local, implications, held the capacity audience spellbound in St Michael and All Angels Church (where the Yeats family worshipped in the 1880s and 1890s) and made for a lively Q&A session afterwards, chaired by WB Yeats Bedford Park Project organiser, Cahal Dallat, who introduced Professor Foster.

Image above: (L to R) Director of the Chiswick Book Festival, Torin Douglas; Cahal Dallat; Mayor of Ealing, Hitesh Tailor; Professor Roy Foster; Leader of Hounslow Council, Shantanu Rajawat; Vicar of St Michael & All Angels Church, Fr Kevin Morris; Cllr Gerald McGregor

Hosted by the Chiswick Book Festival, the event was attended by Mayor of Ealing, Hitesh Tailor, and Council Leader at London Borough of Hounslow, Shantanu Rajawat. Bedford Park is divided between the two boroughs and the two homes in which the Yeats family lived in the 1880s/1890s were in Woodstock Road (now Hounslow) and Blenheim Road (now Ealing).

Both councils have supported the creation of Conrad Shawcross’s dazzling #EnwroughtLight at the entrance to Bedford Park as a permanent tribute to Yeats’s genius and the role the unique artistic and intellectual community here played in his development as well as having helped fund the creation of “Discover Bedford Park with WB Yeats”, the only poetry smartphone trail of its kind in Britain which has continued to attract visitors all through the year since its launch by Jeremy Vine last January.

Cahal Dallat is a poet, the author of Beautiful Lofty Things and the driving force behind the WB Yeats Bedford Park Project

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