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Interview with Douglas Lee Saum – Poetry of William Butler Yeats Set To Music

                                                                                                                                   In this interview spotlight, we chat with Douglas Lee Saum about the many styles of music he has infused with the lyrics and poems of Irish Nobel Laureate William Butler Yeats as well as his influences, his newest release and more.


Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)

Though I have roots in Nebraska and Wyoming, I am currently residing in Reno, Nevada continuously since 1991. I have been engaged in an original music project since 1996 setting the lyric poems of Irish Nobel Laureate William Butler Yeats. To date I have released approximately 240 songs on 8 CD’s. I have presented Yeats’s words in a variety of musical styles including: folk, rock, blues, reggae, country, symphonic, electronic, Indian, jazz. My sound has been compared to Neil Young, the Waterboys, Beatles, and others. Over the years I have gathered a group of artists, singers, and musicians from Reno, Northern California, Australia, Ireland, etc. that has contributed to my recordings.


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The News-Journal

Daytona, Fla




Saum stays true to great poet

By Rick deYampert



Douglas Lee Saum

The Wind, the Reeds, and the Seven Woods

(Barbarous Generation Music)

            **** (of five)


            Talk about dysfunctional relationships . . .on his new CD The Wind, the Reeds, and the Seven Woods, Douglas Lee Saum has this to sing about a lover:  “Were you but lying cold and dead, and lights were paling out of the West, you would come hither and bend your head, and I would lay my head on your breast.  And you would murmur tender words, forgiving me, because you were dead . . . O would, beloved, that you lay under the dock-leaves in the ground, while lights were paling one by one.”

            Is Saum a Marilyn Manson protégé?  A new millennium, vampiric goth rocker?

            No.  Actually, Saum didn’t write any of the lyrics for the 45 songs on his two-CD set.  Instead, when the folkie guitarist and multi-instrumentalist went in search for a lyricist, he decided to hook up with a rather capable wordsmith named William Butler Yeats.  Yes, that Yeats – the Nobel Prize-winning Irishman whom many critics consider the greatest 20th-century poet writing in the English language.

            So what’s up with that death fetish?  The lines come directly from the Yeats poem “He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead,” written from the point of view of Aedh, the Celtic god of death.

            Likewise throughout the album, Saum doesn’t merely adapt or otherwise monkey with Yeats’s words as he puts them to music.  The Reno, Nevada, folkie is utterly faithful in preserving these poems, written in the early part of Yeats’s career in the 1890s and early 1900s.

            As for the music, Saum and the many guest singers and musicians on guitar, flute, fiddle, and bodhran (Irish hand drum) don’t conjure traditional Irish folk music a la the Chieftains or Altan.  Instead, Saum employs his slightly ragged but lively tenor over sounds that variously recall the Celtic-tinged folk rock of the Waterboys or the folky side of Neil Young.

            As for the lyrics – hey, that Yeats guy could turn a phrase, whether he was writing about Irish mythology (“The Song of Wandering Aengus”), the mystical side of love (“He Hears the Cry of the Sedge,” “The Cap and Bells”), the labyrinthine ways of love (“Adam’s Curse,” “The Folly of Being Comforted”) or apocalyptic, esoteric works (“The Valley of the Black Pig”).

            And this Saum guy has a knack, and obviously a passion, for taking Yeats’s stirring poetry and recasting not just the Irishman’s words but his spirit into song.


Entertainment Writer


"The Wild Swans at Coole"

Barbarous Generation Music

A Nevada English teacher, amateur Yeats scholar and singer-guitarist, Douglas Saum says he was intrigued in the mid-1990s when he first noticed "the poems of W. B. Yeats singing their melodies to him." Now on a quest to set the poet's entire catalog to music, Saum has just completed "The Wild Swans at Coole," a collection Yeats published in 1919.

Utilizing mostly folk and folk-rock textures and sticking faithfully to the text of the poems, this two-CD, 47-track collection includes the famous, mysterious and beautiful title track, plus "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" and "On Being Asked For a War Poem." (Available at

Short Reviews

"Beautiful songs!" Tony Palmer, Filmmaker, Wagner, 200 Motels, All My Loving, Bird on a Wire, All You Need is Love . . . and many more.


“A new world of beauty and wonder . . .” Blair Jackson, Author of Garcia:  An American Life,  Going Down the Road:  A Grateful Dead Traveling Companion, Senior Editor Mix Magazine.


“Doug Saum is a resident of Reno, Nevada, who has compiled several CDs in which he has put the poetry of William Butler Yeats into song.  His renditions of the poems capture the essence of the work of Yeats.  Many have previously sought in vain to do this, and Saum has succeeded.”  Declan Foley, Editor, Beyond Ben Bulben (Australian Yeats Society)


“Yeats believed that every soul sings a ‘sweet crystalline cry.’  Here is music which has at its heart that clear and indomitable cry.” Donovan Welch, Poet


[Saum] “ . . . is utterly faithful in preserving these poems . . . has a knack, and obviously a passion, for taking Yeats’s stirring poetry and recasting not just the Irishman’s words but his spirit into . . . sounds that variously recall the Celtic-tinged folk rock of the Waterboys or the folky side of Neil Young.” Rick de Yampert, The News-Journal, Daytona, Florida


"Doug Saum’s music for Beautiful Lofty Things demonstrates perfectly how images function as the catylst for other art.  Think of  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead or Ahab’s Wife, or more appropriately in this instance, what Beethoven did with Schiller’s poem". Richard Londraville, Author, Prodigal Father Revisited:  Artists and Writers in the World of John Butler Yeats