100 years ago…

‘September 1913’ is a poem written and set 100 years ago by W.B. Yeats.

This poem was written as part of the ‘Responsibilities’ collection and is in essence comparing the Ireland of 1913 to ‘Romantic Ireland’ – the Ireland that he loves. The poem itself is a reaction to the apathy of the Irish at the time, many were involved in the bigoted Nationalist movement that Yeats hated. It contains four regular stanzas and has a regular rhythm, this could be interpreted to represent that he wants stability and regularity in Ireland. The language of the poem is very simple and mainly monosyllabic, this is so that the whole country could read and understand it, and Yeats’ message could be heard by all.

The first stanza starts with a direct address to the reader, “What need you,” – the use of the first person means Yeats is talking directly to the greedy Nationalists at the time, it is very personal. In this stanza Yeats mocks the Catholics for being overly pious and actually stealing. They may add “prayer to shivering prayer” but they are actually fumbling in a “greasy till”, taking all of the money. Yeats accuses them of taking the money, and thus the life out of Ireland:

“You have dried the marrow from the bone?”

This is a very vivid image that gives the reader a real sense of how these people are killing Ireland. 

Yeats ends every stanza with:

“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary in the grave”

This phrase is a contrast to the rest of the stanza as it describes the good times. Its repetition emphasises how upset Yeats is and it’s a constant reminder of the past. O’Leary was a politician who was a hero of Ireland that inspired Yeats, and was also a father figure to him. The line suggests that because O’Leary’s dead Ireland is too, as O’Leary isn’t there to guide it.

In the second stanza Yeats immediately differentiates between the people in 1913 and the people in “Romantic Ireland” – “a different kind”. He then references those who fought before as “names that stilled your childish play” which could suggest that the fighters were taught about in school or even sung about in nursery rhymes.  Unfortunately these people and what they had fought for have been forgotten, “They have gone around the world like wind”. Yeats then condemns the pious Catholics by saying that the fighters had “little time” to pray, as they were fighting for Ireland, basically saying that they actually did something, not just act holy. Yeats also implies that the Catholics should be ashamed for hiding behind their faith and being greedy, as the Saints and heroes they look up to were martyrs who died for what they believed in:

“For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,”

Yeats then suggests that what they did couldn’t save Ireland, “what, God help us, could they save?” – this makes me think that the Nationalists were ruining the great reputation of Ireland.

In the third stanza Yeats references the men who fought abroad, “the wild geese spread” and questions why they fought, as nothing was achieved, and so many died “all that blood was shed”. Yeats also mentions three heroes “Edward Fitzgerald”, “Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone” who died for Ireland, and in Yeats’ opinion died in vain. He then suggests that all that effort was for nothing, “All that delirium of the brave?” as the people of 1913 haven’t learned from what the brave men of the past had suffered.

In the fourth stanza Yeats changes his stance. Yeats says that he doesn’t want the past to come back, he doesn’t want the fallen dead, Fitzgerald, Emmet or Tone to return because they’d be disgusted to see what had happened to Ireland after all the “loneliness and pain” they went through. Yeats suggests that they would think “some woman’s yellow hair” had distracted all the men – as everything had gone so badly downhill. He ends the poem on the lines:

“But let them be, they’re dead and gone,

They’re with O’Leary in the grave”

This makes the reader realise that even though he loved the past, he doesn’t want to think about it too much as it saddens him when he returns to 1913. 

Thanks for reading,

Jack

 

 

 

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