‘Man and the Echo’ is a poem by W.B. Yeats in which he talks with his Echo about how words can be manipulated to have an alternate meaning. The poem consists of 3 long stanzas, with an echoing line at the end of the 1st and 2nd that echoes the last line. The poem is made up of rhyming couplets. This emphasises the relationship between the Man and the Echo, but also gives the poem a repetitive feel, which gives the idea of an echo. The use of enjambment makes the poem sound like a rush of random thoughts. The poem is almost like a dialogue between the Man and the Echo, with either ‘Man.’ or ‘Echo.’ to introduce who is speaking, like a script.
The Echo could be interpreted in many ways. It only ever repeats what the Man is saying, almost agreeing with him. We could see the Echo as a spirit guide or a deity reassuring Yeats that what he thinks is true. The repetitive nature of the Echo brings the idea of gyres and the occult, something Yeats was fascinated in. As the Echo is only repeating the Man’s words it could be seen as a part of the Man himself, as if he is doubting himself and he is reassuring himself. This seems more plausible when you see the many rhetorical questions, “Shall we in that great night rejoice?” However the Echo’s repetition seems to twist the phrase and makes it seem much darker, “Lie down and die”. This could suggest that the Echo is showing the Man what he is really suggesting. This could show how Yeats’ poems were twisted in meaning, and that Yeats is frustrated by this.
The poem is one of Yeats’ later poems, and we can see this in the more elegaic tone, he is looking back into the past. He looks back at certain things in a regretful way, the phrase “Did words of mine put too great strain on that woman’s reeling brain?” could show how his many love poems may have intimidated Maud Gonne, the love of his life. Yeats is questioning his past, and his actions, and may even be asking the Echo for it’s opinion. The rhetorical question “Did that play of mine send out certain men the English shot?” shows how he looks back and realises what the impact of his poems were, they could have encouraged men to run and fight in the Easter Rising, and maybe even get killed. This seems odd, as for most of his life in his poems he is upset over how his poems have little impact, and that only the apathetic Irish at the time read them, as in ‘The Fisherman’. Man has no control over how people interpret his work, and these interpretations could create “great strain” or inspire wrong deeds, and this frustrates him.
Yeats in the second stanza goes off topic, and has “lost the theme” and goes on to write about broader philsophical topics, such as the abuse of alcohol, or affairs, “Wine or love drug him to sleep”. The phrase “cleans man’s dirty slate” could be a reference to the common idiom ‘wiping a slate clean’ to represent being forgiven. By making man’s slate “dirty” it shows the many sins that men have committed, and how Yeats disapproves of these. In the last stanza Yeats questions God and the afterlife, “Shall we in that great night rejoice?”. He is now accepting death, no longer questioning the past but questioning the future.
The end of the poem has a violent distraction to Yeats’ thoughts:
“Up there some hawk or owl has struck,
Dropping out of sky or rock,
A stricken rabbit is crying out,
And its cry distracts my thought.”
This makes the poem truly seem like thoughts, and Yeats has now stopped pondering life as these animals have made themselves known. The use of animals, rather than another man, makes the end of the poem seem very pastoral and natural.
Thanks for reading,