Across the sea to Byzantium

‘Sailing to Byzantium’ is a poem written by W.B.Yeats comparing the lifetimes of both art and nature, and contrasting the two parallel to youth and old age. Youth is a very creative time, and as you grow older you learn the truths of nature, you become “tattered” “aged” “old men”. Yeats dismisses Ireland, nature and the living world as they offer no consolation for “old men” like him. He sails to the mythical city of Byzantium in his mind, almost worshipping the idea of immortal art in comparison to mortal nature and mortal men. He realises that art has a life beyond the limits of nature, and thus consigns himself to visiting his creative imagination.

The roman numerals to number the stanzas give a sense of formality, that reflects the ancient civilization of Byzantium, which seems like a formal place, with “Lords and Ladies”. The rhyme scheme starts off formally but ends up with half rhymes dispersed to show the fall of Ireland, how at the time of writing Ireland had fallen apart. The rhyming couplet at the end of stanzas suggest completion after the suspense offered by alternate rhymes. The enjambment emphasises the idea that this is all taking place in Yeats’ imagination.

The poem is like an impassionate plea for some form of life through art, saying goodbye to Ireland, the city he visits representing the best of a high ancient culture and classical civilisation. Yeats likes to link his poetry to the classical world through small references or even more blatant references like rewriting myths (‘Leda and the Swan’). Byzantium also represents a revered ideal, a place where art is treasured and lasts. The fact that his poetry may last almost makes up for the fact that his mortal self must die.

The first stanza shows the need for a new song/person in Ireland.The “young” are distracted by sensual music, creative new ideas, and thus Ireland “is no country for old men” as they have no voice. This shows Yeats’ pessimistic look to the future. The phrase “old men” shows the human condition and the truth of age, time passes. A cascade of images to represent nature take over Yeats thoughts, showing nature’s true beauty, as if he is arguing in his mind over whether mortal nature or immortal art is better. The alliteration and punctuation, “fish, flesh and fowl’ force the reader to swiftly pass from one snapshot to another. The reference to summer gives the idea of nature’s energy and abundance, this coupled with the “sensual music” shows the vivid physical world that Yeats desperately wants to reject.

In stanza 2 Yeats uses the image of a scarecrow to describe old men, “tattered” and “paltry”. Yeats’ opinion seems to be that old age is unnecessary. The phrase “Soul clap its hands and sing” shows the celebration that life can be, to add to the pastoral natural images in the first stanza. At the end of this stanza he has left Ireland and politics behind completely as he has “sailed the seas”. 

In stanza 3 Yeats craves spiritual release, almost giving a prayer-like plea to go from the ephemeral to the immortal, from nature to art. He asks for the sages to “come from the holy fire” and be the “singing masters” of his soul. Singing and songs are important in this poem. In the first stanza Yeats refers to the song of the dying generation, and in the second he refers to the singing soul. These songs give the idea of regality and tradition. The idea of the soul and heart being “fastened to a dying animal” reflects the idea of the spiritual attached to the physical, the “animal” reflecting the true nature of the human body, which is animalistic in design, however the thing that makes us human is the spiritual aspect of us, our soul. Yeats accepts the idea of death, “gather me into the artifice of eternity”, he has realised that the body isn’t important.

In the final stanza Yeats admits he will not return to the mortal world after death “I shall never take my bodily form from any natural thing” and looks around the richness and wealth of eternity. He almost seems to want to live in nature but he chooses to live through his art, as the lure is too strong. Gold is frequently mentioned throughout this stanza, a metal that is cold, hard, and doesn’t tarnish or change naturally. The mention of “Lords and Ladies” seems odd, as Yeats is striving to get to this place, whereas Ireland had been striving for centuries to get rid of the class system that supported those ranks, this truly shows how Yeats wants to get away from Ireland by completely defying what they fought for.

There is a contrast between the worlds of art and nature, and a constant sense of opposites. Great art lasts forever, whereas nature physically can’t. Nature is represented in two ways, negatively as a “dying animal” and positively as vivid “salmon-falls” showing both the rewards and punishments of living. Art is shown consistently as the opposite, an unchanging ideal, the city of Byzantium, a “monument of un-aging intellect”. Yeats also shows paradoxes, such as the “holy fire”, “holy” being synonymous with heaven and God, and “fire” having connotations with hell and the Devil. Yeats contrasts the opposites of old and young, that can’t share the same country; “no country for old men”. The old are presented as weak and feeble, “tattered”, “aged”, “paltry”, whereas the young are presented as energetic and vibrant, “sensual”.

There are also ambiguities in the poem. The “birds in the trees” represent the pastoral and natural mortal life and also the freedom that Yeats longs for. They could also represent stability, another thing Yeats desires, as they are up high in the trees. The line “no country for old men” is also ambiguous, as it could suggest that Yeats is nearing the end of his time and must soon die and leave life, or that there are young people taking all the attention and providing all the ideas. 

Thanks for reading,

Jack

 

 

 

Man… man.. man… man…..

‘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,

Jack

In Memory.

‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markiewicz’ is a poem by W.B. Yeats in which he remembers two friends whose principles and beauty had fallen victim to time. This poem is elegaic but also has features of a first person narrative. The use of enjambment makes the poem sound like memories. The rhyme scheme is fairly regular and contains many rhyming couplets. These couplets could represent the unity of the two women, Eva and Constance. The tone is world weary, sad, yet knowing and accepting. The poem shows how human innocence and beauty will be found out by and disapproved of by time.

There is a real tone of memory in the poem, Yeats seems to enjoy recalling “pictures of the mind” of the past. Yeats shows that all he thinks about is the past, which gives a sense of time gone by, “talk of youth”. Yeats contrasts these ideal old days with how the women are today (similar to how he compares “Romantic Ireland” with the Ireland of 1913 in ‘September 1913′). The women were “both beautiful” and we can see that Yeats held them in high esteem. There is a sense of glamour, opulence, aristocracy and grandure associated with them and Lissadell, “silk komonos”, “Great windows”. Yeats doesn’t want both their political and physical beauty to die. He reflects on the old days of the Easter Rising – “Conspiring amongst the ignorant”. The “ignorant” were the apathetic Irishmen and women of the time. This shows the womens’ political beauty.

As the poem progresses we can see that the women are still holding on to the ideal of a perfect world, a political “Utopia”. However time has passed by and “raving autumn shears Blossom from the summer’s wreath;” the use of the word “autumn” rings change, as autumn is a changing time, and the harsh word “shears” has connotations with death. In stark contrast the words “Blossom” and “summer’s wreath” have connotations with freshness and even fresh new ideas. We can see that only the memory of politics can comfort them now, “When withered old and skeleton-gaunt, an image of such politics”. The physical decay of Eva “withered” is a metaphor for their politics and ideals which have been forgotten.

There’s a tone of defiant anger in the poem, as Yeats is not going to give up the memory and the women aren’t going to give up who they are. The idea of the “match” symbolises the relighting of the passion, to commemorate and highlight their lies. The poem could be seen as ending irrationally, compounding bitterness with another futile gesture of striking a match.  The fire could represent a violent change or revolutionary action. It could also symbolise the lighting of a beacon of hope. The idea of relighting the fire shows rebirth and change, which brings the image of gyres, a common symbol in Yeats’ poetry.  The use of the supernatural in this poem is less than in some of his other works, but is nonetheless there, the rhyming couplets sound like simple mystical spells and the idea of “shadows” and “sages” also brings about the idea of the occult. 

Thanks for reading,

Jack

A couplet of questions.

These are two separate essays, so points may be repeated!

Many of Yeats’ poems explore the breaking of dreams. How does ‘The Stolen Child’ suggest the illusion of dreams and the dream of illusion?

‘The Stolen Child’ is a very childish, playful and dreamlike poem. There are illusions in the setting and the faeries, which/who lures the child into being abducted. It has four stanzas of varying length, showing change. It is a narrative viewpoint with ballad like qualities,  similar to a monologue. The rhyme and rhythm flows like the water in the poem, evoking a magical atmosphere.

In the poem a human child is taken to the ethereal and playful supernatural world by the faeries, yet the faeries are not good. They seem to be upset that the human world is full of “weeping” and thus they appear to be saving a human child and offering him a release. However they are stealing him away to their world. The use of the word ‘we’ to describe the faeries show how separate they are from the humans.

Despite the enchanting nature of the poem’s lyricism there are hints at the sinister plans of the faeries. The title itself, ‘The Stolen Child’, very plainly shows that the Child will be stolen. The phrase “reddest stolen cherries” anticipates the human theft at the end of the poem. It also suggests the hoarding of the most precious things, and the colour may suggest blood and some act of violation against innocence and nature, i.e. rape.

This dreamlike setting is an illusion for the child, to attract him towards the faeries. However the child may have dreamt of such illusion. Many children have a strong imagination that means they would love to see a different world, an elaborate and enchanting faery kingdom. And yet the dream that the child encounters is just that, a dream, an illusion. It’s a trap set by the faeries to entice him.

The language in the poem has lots of adjectives, making the poem sensuous, with a honeyed and childlike quality, “leafy island”, “flapping herons”, “frothy bubbles”. This makes the poem seem aimed towards children, and in particular the Child. This shows how the setting is an illusion that has been made to lure the child. 

The end of the poem shows the sinister ending to the poem. The word “you” to represent the child is changed to “he”, the Child has gone with the faeries. The word “he” sounds disconnected, distant, as if he’s gone. It also shows how evil the faeries are, they don’t even know his name.

Compare the style and theme of ‘The Stolen Child’ with the realism and disillusion of ‘September 1913’ and explore the differences.

‘The Stolen Child’ and ‘September 1913’ are almost polar opposite poems. ‘The Stolen Child’ explores the dangers of the supernatural and almost perfect beauty whereas ‘September 1913′ condemns the apathy of the Irish at the time. Yeats’ early writing see him turn from the realistic political times by seeking the morals in older tales and legends.

Both poems contain 4 stanzas, yet ‘The Stolen Child’ has stanzas of varying length to show change, whereas ‘September 1913’ has stanzas of the same length to show the stability that Yeats wants in Ireland. ‘The Stolen Child’ shows faeries stealing a human child, and ‘September 1913’ is a direct challenge to the Irish in 1913. The rhythm and rhyme in ‘The Stolen Child’ gives the poem a mystical flow and a magical atmosphere, whereas in ‘September 1913’ it gives a mocking tone, showing how Yeats is mocking the Catholics who have “dried the marrow from the bone” of Ireland.

Both poems use a refrain to link the stanzas, and in the last stanza this changes. In ‘September 1913’ the refrain changes from “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, It’s with O’Leary in the grave” to “But let them be, they’re dead and gone, They’re with O’Leary in the grave”. Originally Yeats was showing how Ireland had changed, the Nationalists were acting in an angry and bitter way,  whereas he changed his mind, he doesn’t want the heroes of the past to see the awful nature of 1913 as they’d be ashamed. In ‘The Stolen Child’ the refrain changes “Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, For the worlds more full of weeping than you can understand.” by changing “you” and “human child” to “he” making a more disconnected character, as the child has left. The changes mean different things, in ‘The Stolen Child’ it shows the change and the sinister end to the story, whereas in ‘September 1913’ it shows the changed attitude of the poet.

‘September 1913’ is a very blunt poem, saying things as they are, it doesn’t sugar coat the facts, or make illusions to make the world seem better (like in ‘The Stolen Child’) – “fumble in a greasy till”. The language in the poem is serious, as it deals with conflict, whereas the language in ‘The Stolen Child’ is very sensuous, attracting the child: “wandering water”, “young streams”, “flapping herons”,”leafy island”.

Thanks for reading,

Jack   

Naughty faeries.

‘The Stolen Child’ is a poem showing Yeats’ longing to escape from the world, as well as his realisation that despite the world’s flaws, it is still home. Yeats writes a poem in which a human child is taken to the supernatural world, an enchanting, playful and ethereal place. There’s a sense of languid flow which disguises the strong metre. It’s a narrative viewpoint with ballad-like qualities, almost similar to a monologue. The structure of the verses rings change, each stanza has a different number of lines. The rhyme scheme is regular to show the stability of home, and this contrasts with the cold changes of the new world.

Yeats’ early work is often concerned with romantic world and Irish folklore. Ireland as a nation was struggling for independence and trying to assert it’s own identity against the British and the Empire. A returns to local traditions is a way of asserting and creating a sense of Ireland as both different but also ancient with it’s own roots.These early writings see Yeats turning away from the realistic political imperialism in seeking the truths of older tales and legends (tales of morality etc).

The title is key to the poem, ‘The Stolen Child’ as a phrase explores the idea of a changeling, or a child stolen by faeries, a common myth to many cultures which owes it’s tale to Sligo. Yeats was fascinated with the occult and the supernatural. He drew much inspiration from tales associated with Sligo in the Romantic West of Ireland. The faeries in the poem seem to lament the tears and tragedies of the human world. The poem ironically presents the supernatural as something sinister, luring the child away from the wholesome into the unconscious depths of the “wild waters”. The faeries in the poem aren’t good ones. The voices may be those of the pagan Sid Hi – spirits of gaelic mythology that lure the Child from his world. They are evoked in a mystical way and yet their purposes are obviously sinister.

Much of the poem’s delight comes from it’s lyricism, each verse except the last begins with the enchanting word “Where”. The words are strong, song-like and romantic with alliteration and assonance. Rhythm and flowing full rhymes evoke a mystical atmosphere and the use of the word “we” expresses a sense of a separate exotic magical identity of shared doing and being.

The phrase “hid our faery vats” anticipates the human theft at the end of the poem. The idea of theft is also shown in the phrase “reddest stolen cherries”. This also suggests the hoarding of the most precious things and the colour may suggest the shedding of blood or some act of violation against innocence.

There’s irony in the refrain:

Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand.

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

The faeries are drawing the child from the world, and they appear to be saving the child from the “weeping”, yet they actually cheat and deceive. The phrase “Come away, O human child!” offers the troubled child a rescue from the sorry world to a kingdom of riches and delight. This musical refrain also shows an alluring cadence, the falls and closes in rhythm and rhyme show a sense of shared delight.

The delicacy of sound weaves a spell, evoking a landscape and a world in a dream in which the faeries can even enchant the fish, “slumbering trout”. There are lots of adjectives which gives a sensuous honeyed quality to the poem, “leafy island”, “frothy bubbles”, this makes the poem seems childlike and attractive to children.

In the third stanza the sibilance of the letter ‘s’ conjures up a sense of stillness and mischief as the faeries set their trap, “That scarce could bathe a star”. The action anticipates the more sinister ending of the poem where the “solemn eyed” boy is captured by the faeries spell.

In the fourth stanza Yeats writes about what the boy will lose when he falls the the faeries.

“He’ll hear no more the lowing

Of the calves on the warm hillside

Or the kettle on the hob

Sing peace into his breast,”

These are warm pastoral images that are a reassuring representation of home for the child. The “oatmeal chest” shows the peace and fulfillment of the natural world. It presents a contrast between the human and the ethereal faery world. It shows abundance and plenty. The “waters and the wild” shows how the boy is lured from the warmth of his home for the cold alien reality of the faeries. The human world may be full of “weeping” but it is still his world.

In the last stanza “you” is changed to “he” which sounds more sinister and removed, as if the child is now distant and caught in the faery world. It’s almost mocking the parents. The use of “he” also shows how the faeries are evil as they don’t even know his name, yet it could also show how “he” represents many children. 

The poem can be interpreted as a parable for the loss of innocence, a dream that lures then betrays us. It shows the dangers of the supernatural; of powers that serve their own purposes; and of the illusory nature of beauty. The poem isn’t simple escapism where the poet turns his back on reality for a romantic world, the poem shows us how the Child can sometimes be lost in such dreaming. 

Thanks for reading,

Jack

 

Miaow.

Image

‘The Cat and the Moon’ is a poem by W.B. Yeats that on one level celebrates a cat dancing in the moonlight in a childlike ways. On a deeper level it suggests forces at work in life: instinctual, mystical, and spiritual forces that exist beyond many simple and rational views. The poem shows how relationships and perceptions are a changing mix of the objective and subjective. The poem is one, long, continuous stanza and Yeats uses enjambment to give the poem a mystical flow. There is a regular rhyme scheme and this coupled with the rhythm makes the whole poem sound like a song. This reflects the dance element of the poem, as if the poem is a song that the cat, Minnaloushe, is dancing to. The rhythm reflects the hidden rhythms and secret parallels in the natural world of animals, men and the moon, suggesting a wider sense of nature that may exist in philosophies of the time.  

This is a playful, delightful and symbolic poem that can be seen as simple, and yet it draws similarities and distinctions between the Cat and the Moon. There is a delight about the poem in it’s conception of a mysterious symmetry between two things in nature that seem so different. There’s a kind of childlike appreciation of the moods of the Cat and it’s energies in a way that is pleasingly magical and mysterious. He is free from rational explanation, yet at the same time potent and real in a different way.

Yeats is fascinated with the occult and all aspects of the supernatural. He worked out his own systems and visions. and believed in the power of different things such as the phases of the moon. There’s an almost mystical sense of communion between the Cat and the Moon and life and the universe. This brings about the image of the gyre, and that everything is linked. This idea also comes into mind when we think of the moon, it changes it’s phase and yet is constant. Minnaloushe initially ignores the Moon, then they become mirrors of each other at the end. This is similar to how Yeats’ ideas of how real and supernatural worlds share links and connections.

The cat, Minnaloushe, is Maud Gonne’s cat. In this poem Minnaloushe represents Yeats, and the Moon represents Gonne. Thus Yeats is dancing childishly around Gonne, trying to attract her attention. The Moon is a traditional symbol for women, the phases of the moon have long been associated with the menstrual cycle. The Moon is behind Minnaloushe, which could be interpreted to suggest that Gonne is behind all of Yeat’s poetic inspirations.

There are distinct contrasts between the Moon and Minnaloushe. The movement of the cat “here and there” and the Moon “spun round like a top” are very different and can’t be synchronised, showing the differences. This description could also show how the Moon wants to be like Minnaloushe, dancing alongside him. The cat is black and the moon is “pure” and “cold”, suggesting it’s white. These two colours are the stark opposites. The phrase “pure cold light” is also ethereal, suggesting a mystical side to the poem. These contrasts show the differences between Minnaloushe and the Moon and could show that Gonne and Yeats are very different. However despite these differences Yeats describes them as “two close kindred” – showing his longing to be with Gonne. There are many apparent differences between the Cat and the Moon, and yet these are superficial as they are both connected by nature.

There’s a strong theme of change in this poem, the change in the moon is reflected in Minnaloushe’s eyes:

“The sacred moon overhead

Has taken a new phase.

Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils

Will pass from change to change,

And that from round to crescent,

From crescent to round the range?”

This suggestion shows that however they may never be one and the same, they are very similar and have similar aspects: their changing. The change occurs so that the shapes are the same, “round to crescent”, this shows that they change together. These changes in the Moon could show Gonne’s changing attitudes to Yeats and men in general, she would have many relationships with many men.

The “dance” is most probably a metaphor for a relationship. Yeats, as the cat, is desperate to dance and have a relationship with Gonne. Yeats wants the Moon to “learn” this fact, and even though she may be tired of this “courtly fashion” he hopes she may join him in a “new dance”. We can see Yeats’ attitude to the idea of a relationship with Gonne by the use of the word “sacred”. This places Gonne in a divine place in his heart.

Thanks for reading,

Jack

(For the people who are reading who are not in my English class you may not understand the picture. The girl in the picture is a friend of mine called Cat. :D)

 

 

Yeats’ dream is Gonne

‘Broken Dreams’ by W.B. Yeats tackles with the ideas of time, afterlife, aging and the effect of unrequited love. The poem is a long monologue in which Yeats describes Gonne using past, present, idealised and transient images of her. It explores her perfections, especially due to her imperfection. It shows how his thoughts and feelings for her evolved over time. Its a journey of many images and ideas about Gonne, some detailed, some longing, some immediate and some fading into mere memory. The poem is strange amongst Yeats’ poems, as it is one long stanza. This coupled with the enjambment makes the poem sound like rambled thoughts. The rhyme scheme is tight at the beginning, weakens later on and then strengthens near the very end. This could be interpreted in two ways:

  • It represents life and the effect of aging: you begin life as a strong individual, then weaken as you grow old, and are then strengthened by your memories as you look back on your life.  
  • It represents Yeat’s love of Maud Gonne: Began very strong thus he was besotted, then after many rejections he gave up hope. Near the end of his life he looks back and realises that he still loves her no matter what.

When Maud was with Yeats she was having affairs and illegitimate children, yet he was still in love. He never forgot his first meeting with her and was completely obsessed, she became his muse, the source of inspiration. She was possibly too much of a modern woman for him, she broke his heart. In his writing she is his Helen of Troy – a vicious freedom fighter. She is increasingly written as a memory, with many of the poems having an elegaic tone. In this poem she is more imagined than real. For a Romantic like Yeats we see that Gonne is almost transformed into a mythical being in his poetry.

The title, ‘Broken Dreams’ shows the imperfection, that Yeats’ life is incomplete without Gonne. His dreams of having a relationship with Gonne has been shattered. The poem opens with an unflattering truth, “grey in your hair”, this gives Yeats the opportunity to flatter Gonne later on in the poem. This first line dramatically introduces the theme of love and time. Lines 2 and 3, “young men no longer suddenly catch their breath” introduce the idea of fading youth, showing that Gonne isn’t as she was. Yeats describes himself as an “old gaffer” who was “recovered” by her. The words “old gaffer” show the personal and conversational tone. The word “recovered” shows how she has revived his life and his attitudes to love. This makes her sound almost divine, as if she has the power of a saint or miracle worker to recover lives. The phrase “your prayer” has a hint of possessive pride.

The phrase “for your sole sake” is a pun. The phrase ‘for your souls sake’ is to do with the afterlife and going to heaven, and the effect of using the word “sole” shows that heaven has prevented her (and her alone) from giving in to time. This is repeated to emphasise the point. Yeats shows his rapturous admiration by suggesting that she makes “peace” when she “merely” walks into a room. The line “Vague memories, nothing but memories” shows that beauty must one day fade and die. The phrase also show that his memories of Gonne are on a pedestal. However this could be Yeats rejecting his other relationships (including his wife) and saying that they’re “nothing but memories”. The phrase haunts the poem, suggesting how inadequate the mind/Yeats can be to the reality of her mardless physical beauty.

When he talks about the “young man” asking the “old man” is exactly what is happening today. We are all talking about Gonne in our A Level and her significance, thus Yeats has given her the highest accolade – longevity and life beyond death as she is immortalised in his poems. When he talks about her “first loveliness” Yeats is referring to her being reborn in heaven. This highlights the sad truth that she has faded on earth but then shows that she will be reborn just as beautiful as ever in heaven.

After he talks about “muttering like a fool” the rest of the poem is him doing just that, “You are more beautiful than anyone”. This is a passionate recollection, showing the eb and flow of hope and longing. This humanises the drama of his love in a way that is profoundly moving. Yeats then goes on to say that there is a “flaw”: her “small hands” that weren’t beautiful. This shows a strong,mature relationship as he can insult her, he can see the negatives. However he loves these imperfections, asking that when she is reborn in heaven she is reborn just as she is, “don’t change the hands that I have kissed”. This shows that he thinks she is perfect just the way she is.

Yeats talks about the “always brimming lake” – probably referring to the fountain of youth, which brings the image of a gyre. The image of a gyre is always shown in the phrase “the last stroke of midnight”. This shows the idea that life has come full circle and he is close to death. The phrase “dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme” sounds almost elegaic and has a deathly tone, similar to the phrase ‘dust to dust’.  The “rambling talk” reflects the poem he’s immortalised her in and the last line shows that she’s only vaguely remembered.

Thanks for reading,

Jack 

Birds of a Feather

‘Leda and the Swan’ is a poem by W.B. Yeats to show the effect of the abuse of power. It details the story of the Greek Myth of Leda and the Swan, in which Zeus (disguised as a swan) rapes Leda. The poem has 5 irregular stanzas, one of which is a dividing line which emphasises the pause which represents ejaculation. At the beginning of the poem there’s a regular rhyme scheme, but this disintegrates near the end to show Leda’s lack of control.

Image

The whole poem shows the birth of modern history. The events after this rape, the birth of Helen of Troy etc brought about the Trojan War, which was the end of ancient civilisation and the dawn of modern history. The poem shows that evil breeds evil, and that you can have sex without love.

The Swan is presented as dominating,violent and evil; this is a great contrast to the beautiful and peaceful representation of swans in other poetry. The Swan dominates and controls Leda, “let her drop”, this shows an abuse of power as the Swan is obviously strong, “great wings” and Leda is obviously weak, “terrified”, “staggering”, “helpless”. Yeats also uses dark imagery to represent the swan to show evil, “brute blood”, “dark webs”.

There’s a lot of subtle sexual language in this poem to represent the rape. Many of these are ambiguous, for example the “feathered glory” could represent the phallus of the Swan, but also Leda’s virginity, and the “white rush” could represent the Swan’s movement or the ejaculation. The use of sexual language and the language of war and conflict shows how the two could be related. The phrase the “broken wall” could represent Leda’s lost virginity. However put into context with the whole line “The broken wall, the burning roof and tower” brings about images of war and destruction, and the next line “And Agamemnon dead.” shows that it is in relation to the Trojan War.

“Wild Swans” is a name for freedom fighters, so the poem could be showing how the revolutionaries (the Swan) are ruining and controlling Ireland (Leda), yet through it new things could come, both bad (Trojan War) and good (Dawn of Modern civilisation). Leda has to lie and take the rape, like Ireland has to take British Rule. Thus the poem could reflect a whole variety of political issues.

There are also a variety of  Yeatsian traits in this poem. For example, at the beginning of the poem the words attract the readers attention immediately: “A sudden blow”. However in the context of the poem this also means the sudden attack of the Swan. This is used in other poems by Yeats’, such as ‘The Cold Heaven’: “Suddenly I saw…”. Yeats also uses many rhetorical questions to show his own doubt and make the reader think. The question at the end is also a Yeatsian trait, as many of Yeats’ poems end on a rhetorical question to leave a thoughtful final tone. This is also used in “The Second Coming”, “The Wild Swans at Coole”, and “The Cold Heaven”. 

Thanks for reading,

Jack

Swans Gonne Wild.

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‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ is a poem by W.B. Yeats once again lamenting due to his loneliness. It consists of 5 regular stanzas, with a regular rhyme scheme of ABCBDD. The couplet at the end seems odd when read, as the rhyme appears to be too early. This change in rhyme emphasises the changes in Yeats’ life. The voice of the poem is Yeats himself as he walks in the autumn to Coole park to observe the swans and reflect on the changes that have happened in his life since he was last there.

There is a lot of cold pastoral language in this poem, which gives it a natural feel, “autumn beauty”. Some of these phrases give the poem a cold feel, “Under the October twilight the water/Mirrors a still sky”. One of the phrases, “companionable streams” makes the reader think of companionship, and the relationship that the swans have with their home, the stream. The use of the word “companionable” makes the stream seem homely and welcoming, which contrasts with the rest of the poem. This could be to show how the swans feel about life in comparison to how Yeats feels.

Change is most definitely one of the main themes of this poem. Yeats is in Coole Park in the “autumn”, a time at which the leaves are changing colour. Yeats says that he counts the swans, and that the last time he had done this was nineteen years ago, “The nineteenth autumn has come upon me/Since I first made my count;”. Many things changed in the world in these 19 years, WW1 occurred, and closer to Yeats’ heart, the Irish Civil War. As well as this Yeats was realising that Maud Gonne would never love him. The idea of change is also presented with the idea of “wheeling in great broken rings” which makes the reader think of the ideas of gyres and the circle of life. The “rings” show change as they turn but are not complete. The word “broken” is ambiguous, and could mean a broken heart, a broken Ireland,  or even broken attitudes.

In contrast to Yeats’ life, Yeats observes that the swans have not changed, they still “paddle in the cold”. Unlike Yeats, “their hearts have not grown old” and the way Yeats writes this makes him sound almost jealous of the swans, almost bitter. The phrase “lover by lover” shows how the swans have companionship with each other, and Yeats may even be jealous of this fact. However Yeats’ loneliness is reflected in the phrase “nine-and-fifty swans”. The odd phrasing of this (most people would simply say fifty-nine) emphasises how one of these swans will be alone, just like Yeats. 

The last lines, “when I awake some day/To find they have flown away”, makes Yeats sound as if he has a sense of longing to go with the swans. This coupled with some of the lines earlier, may even make the reader feel that Yeats wants to be a swan, or whatever he feels the swan represents. Yeats wants to live life carefree, and move “lover by lover”, full of companionship, and yet this isn’t the case. The line shows there’s nothing left in Yeats’ life, and his diminished self and faded dreams. The swans could be parallel to Gonne, as she has left Yeats too, and Yeats doesn’t want that to happen again.

Thanks for reading,

Jack 

The End is Nigh… apparently.

“The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats is a poem about the apocalypse. It was written around the end of WW1, when lots of things were changing, and the world seemed to be changing so fast it was like Armageddon. Thus Yeats wrote this poem to show his thoughts on chaos, and how from all these bad things, even more bad could be coming. The new century was meant to be a bright and exciting new time, and yet everything seemed to be going so badly wrong. The tone of the poem is very pessimistic and confused, showing disorder. The use of both evil language “blood-dimmed”, and religious language, “Bethlehem” creates a confused feeling. The use of enjambment, the varying line lengths and lack of rhyme also adds to the idea of chaos. 

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Throughout the poem Yeats uses Biblical language to tie into the religious side of the apocalypse. ‘The Second Coming’ itself is a phrase to describe when Jesus will return and decide who goes to heaven. Yeats says:

“Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.”

The repetition of “surely” shows his doubt, as if he doesn’t know whether all the bad things happening means that the apocalypse is nigh. The whole phrase has overtones of prophetic grandeur. By saying ” some revelation” Yeats is referring to the book of Revelations in the Bible, in which the prophecy of the apocalypse is forseen by St John. Yeats references a verse of Revelations when he says “the blood-dimmed tide” – the verse stating that the star Wormwood would fall to earth and the waters turn to blood. This is an image filled with connotations of both religion and death – showing the nature of the apocalypse. Revelations is full of odd creatures, and this fact seems to be reflected by the line “A shape with lion body and head of a man” – obviously a reference the Egyptian Sphinx. The reference to the “desert sand” could refer to Jesus’ time in the desert where the devil tempted him.

The line “That twenty centuries of stony sleep” is a reference to Jesus being out of the world for twenty centuries. The word “stony” has connotations with Jesus’ resurrection – as the stone was rolled away from the tomb, and Jesus was not there. At the very end of the poem Yeats says:

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

This rhetorical question seems blasphemous – it is as if Yeats is describing Jesus as a “rough beast”. The effect of the word “slouching” adds to the image of a lazy rough beast. The use of the word “Bethlehem” reminds us of Jesus’ first birth – so maybe Yeats is trying to say that the Second Coming will not be pleasant, it will be a “rough beast” (looking at Revelations it definitely doesn’t seem like an optimistic time).

Yeats also uses references to the time he lives in falling “apart”. He states that “Mere anarchy is loose in the world” – maybe referencing the fall of the Tzars in Russia, or the World War. The use of the line “The falcon cannot hear the falconer” suggests disorder, and could be interpreted as a metaphor for mankind losing it’s connection with God. The use of the word “falcon” makes it sound refined, as only the upper classes would own falcons. Again the phrase “the centre cannot hold;” also suggests that mankind has lost it’s connection with the centre, the centre being a metaphor for God (as God is portrayed as the centre of life). Yeats suggests that everyone is guilty, that “innocence has drowned”.   

The first line, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre” could be interpreted in many ways. When I first read it I thought the word “turning” was a reference to the phrase, ‘turning in your grave’ – and thus the word was used ironically as according to Christian belief all of the dead leave their graves and rise to heaven during the apocalypse. However the “widening gyre” is a reference to the idea of gyres – something W.B Yeats was fascinated with, as he loved the spiritual and the occult. A gyre is a vortex, yet in the spiritual terms it’s the idea that lives pull in at death and then contribute to the next life – thus all the lessons learned in one life are used in the next. It is visualised as two cones, with the points touching to show the lives connected. Thus the word “turning” could be interpreted as a reference to the circle of life, and past lives.  

Thanks for reading,

Jack

 

 

Come Fly with Me

‘An Irish Airman Forsees His Death’ by W.B. Yeats is a poem documenting the thoughts of Robert Gregory, an Irish airman who died in a plane crash in WW1. Robert Gregory was the son of Lady Gregory, Yeats’ patron – and she commissioned this poem in remembrance of her son.

It’s a very calm first person monologue, which shows RG’s  thoughts as he flies, the enjambment highlights how the poem is a collection of thoughts, yet the rhyme scheme shows how his thoughts are controlled – he isn’t panicking. Robert Gregory is shown as a real hero, as the Irish didn’t have to fight in WW1 – only volunteers were taken, and this makes the tragedy of his death even more poignant as he only went to fly. The tone at the beginning is solemn and peaceful, yet by the end he wonders about the meaning of life.

The poem starts with a statement, “I know that I will meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above”. The use of the word “I” shows how the poem is personal, but the whole statement is calm. Gregory knows he will die in action. We can see that he isn’t in the war for ‘noble’ reasons to defend his country, he is there because he enjoys flying:

“Those that I fight I do not hate.

Those that I guard I do not love’

He shows that he is Irish, being from “Kiltartan”, the use of the word “Cross” could refer to his religion, highlighting that he didn’t have to go to war, as Irish Christians didn’t have to due to religious reasons. The use of the word “poor” contrasts where he lived to the rich nationalists of Ireland at the time.

Yeats distinguishes Gregory from the other fighters by saying “No likely end could bring them loss”. This shows that his impending death won’t affect the other fighters – making the reader empathise with Gregory’s situation. He also says that it wouldn’t “leave them happier” – showing that war has no outcome for him apart from the adrenaline of flying, to him there is no loss or win as it isn’t his fight. Yeats also shows that it isn’t his war by saying:

“Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,

Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,

This shows that he doesn’t fight for public praise or law. The repetition of ‘nor’ emphasises that there is no other reason than the “impulse of delight” of flying. The word ‘impulse’ makes it sound like a split second, spur of the moment decision, yet Gregory doesn’t seem to regret his decision.

The next few lines shows that he has contemplated life, “I balanced all”. The phrase gives the idea of scales, and weighing up both sides – Yeats seems to question the point of life and war. We see that he thinks that life isn’t needed, only the adrenaline of flying is – “The years to come seemed waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind”. The repetition of “waste of breath” shows how Yeats (and maybe Gregory) thought that life was unnecessary, and the past and present is too, only life in the moment is real, and not ‘wasteful’.

The last line “In balance with this life, this death” shows that he thinks that both life and death have little point. This is the first time the word ‘death’ is used in the poem – addressing the main issue in the poem directly, almost as if Gregory has realised.

Thanks for reading,

Jack

 

 

A contextual overview.

A collection of notes from contextual overview of the book, ‘The Poems of W.B. Yeats’ by Michael O’Neill.  In these notes I have only included the facts and opinions that I thought were especially interesting or useful (I didn’t want to reword the whole thing – as you may as well read the chapter yourself to find it all out!)

Yeats grew up in a Protestant Anglo-Irish family, living as much in England as Ireland. He went to the west of Ireland in his early summers, for him a place a magic, fairies and dreams. From his youth he longed for a connection with tradition and ancient belief – partly due to his father’s lack of religion. 

Yeats dealt from the beginning with a colonial dilemma. Ireland was under the control of Britain, and wanted to establish a national identity. Yeats participated in the cultural aspect of this struggle as a young man. He associated closely with nationalist figures such as O’Leary and Gonne. Gonne was dedicated to the cause of violent political revolt in England, and Yeats hated this nationalist extremism. His relationship with Gonne was a cycle of intimacy and solitude. He first met her in 1889, and fell in love with her, proposing to her for the first time in 1891. Gonne refused his proposals many times, yet in 1898 they entered into an asexual commitment, as if they were brother and sister. Gonne had no sexual attraction towards Yeats and married John MacBride in 1903, much to Yeats’ disbelief and disappointment.  

In the early 1900s Yeats began to conceptualize his idea that the Irish poet’s task involved disdain of the crowd, loneliness and struggle. This struggle was explicitly against Catholic nationalism (a view easily viewed in ‘September 1913’ – the nationalist middle class are responsible for the death of “Romantic Ireland”). Yeats found refuge in Coole Park, the patron encouraged his interest in folklore – and his cultural and political vision moved to a growing appreciation of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy.

He was very interested  in the occult – undergoing seances and initiation rites. He’s been linked to a specific Anglo-Irish alternative to Catholic forms of spiritual knowledge, that some call ‘Protestant Magic’. Yeats wrote essays on the subject, where he says that “the borders of our mind are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.” He was also fascinated by how ‘symbols’ can evoke this ‘single mind’. Yeats’ interest in the occult links with his early research into Irish folklore and legend, which sparked a desire to establish a national literature. He wanted to free the word ‘celtic’ from the past – it was treated in a sentimental way, and he felt that Irish culture was considered inferior.

It’d be wrong to categorize Yeats’ political opinion too quickly. His initial response to the Easter Rising of 1916 was distress, that all the work had led to violence, yet the poem ‘Easter 1916’ reveals an openness to experience and a readiness to undergo inner conflict and emotional change. He appeared to think that extreme nationalist aspirations were the stuff of ironic comedy, yet after the executions of leaders he realised that a “terrible beauty is born”. Many of his poems show shift, growth, change and conflict.

Over the years Yeats’ work changed, it became harder and more assertive, leaving behind the dreamily lyrical nature of his earlier work. He had a Romantic conviction that a poet was a prophet, able to articulate deep forces at work within culture. Yeats also had a trust in the mind’s capacity to tap into collective mythic or historic experiences, these experiences often reached Yeats in the form of powerful images. A friend of Yeats once remarked that “he had an uncanny way of standing aside and looking on at the game of life as a spectator’. Identity for Yeats isn’t personal, it links with culture and politics in a wider sense. A feature of his literary career was his frequent involvement in controversy concerning Irish politics. These were often based around arguments on what form a new Ireland would take. Yeats wanted to recover a heroic and mythological past.

Thanks for reading,

Jack

 

Thoughts due to informal blackmail.

Backstory:

There has been a long-running argument between myself and a friend on whether Harry Potter is Literature (off topic: recently been wondering whether to post some writing on here arguing for the fact).  One of my English teachers says that it isn’t – the other says it is. The teacher who supports that HP is Lit, Miss Larkin, commented on a post of mine recently saying that she would tell my friend that Harry Potter isn’t Literature if I didn’t post a blog on my thoughts to a radio documentary on W.B. Yeats. To ensure that the reputation of HP (and my personal dignity) is upheld – here is a blog post on just that.

The radio documentary was called “A Terrible Beauty” and focused on the lives and works of W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney. In class we have been focusing on Yeats – and so I will not be blogging here very much about the segments of the radio broadcasts that were about Heaney. The broadcast, present by Finton O’Toole explored these poets, both of whom aspired to be the people and poets of Ireland – representing the nation.

The broadcast started by highlighting the fact that the idea of country is important to the Irish – as well as literary heritage. A poet is someone who speaks memorable truths in an authoritative way, One thing the broadcast emphasised at the beginning was the fact that poets have power. Both Yeats and Heaney had deep connections with Irish land and tradition, and wrote especially from conflicts within the country.  They were v. different people, Yeats was a Protestant middle class writing about Irish revolutions in the 1910s, whereas Heaney was a rural Catholic who wrote about the Irish troubles.

One of my favourite quotes from the broadcast was this:

“Yeats had a gift of beating the scrap metal of day to day life into a ringing bell”

When Yeats grew up the authority was held in the British state – and thus he was part of the revolution that wanted cultural authority. He was considered an urban intellectual speaker

I found it very interesting that the broadcast had recordings of Yeats introducing and reciting one of his poems. He almost sung that poem, chanting it. It was also interesting to hear Heaney’s impression of Yeats – and how Yeats inspired his writing.

What was central about Yeats was that he spoke for Ireland, yet was complicated and ambiguous. He was interested in the mythological west of Ireland, the Anglo-Irish country. He related to this heavily Protestant area naturally. He identified with the Protestant minority – embracing the area and was proud to be part of the Anglo-Irish community, especially due to other members of the minority – Emmet etc. He recites his Protestant heritage in ‘September 1913’ – “For this Edward Fitzgerald died, And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,” yet in ‘Easter 1916’ he cites those with a more Republican background, “I write it out in a verse – MacDonagh and MacBride And Connolly and Pearse”.

Having been the national poet of Ireland, identifying with this area soiled his reputation – and he was ridiculed by many and lost respect from his younger contemporaries. His relationship with the younger poets of his time varied – to some he was kind and affectionate yet to others he was fiercely and dismissively critical.  

Yeats was a part of a movement that believed that Irish authenticity was rooted in authentic Gaelic traditions that had been corrupted by English rule. Some cultural revolutionaries considered him unauthentic – as he hadn’t always lived in Ireland, he had an English family and didn’t speak Gaelic. Yeats contributed an outspoken voice about Ireland at the time, he wanted it to be more open. He was a great public poet, speaking directly about conflict, yet was also outside it.

In the broadcast we also heard the voice of Maud Gonne (which I found fascinating, she sounded completely different to my imagination) who reacted to accusations about Yeats, agreeing that he was a snob.

I found the broadcast to be very insightful and helped me understand more about Yeats’ life and the times he lived in.

Thanks for reading,

Jack

A wise and simple man.

‘The Fisherman’ by W.B.Yeats is a poem describing Yeats preconception that his readers were intelligent, cultural Irish citizens. Throughout this poem he realises that this is not the case. The poem is split into two stanzas, with simple language and rhyme scheme to highlight how Yeats wants his readers to be “wise and simple”. Yeats reflects on his ideal reader, then lists his actual readers, and at the end consigns to the fact that he will have to change his style of writing to educate the mundane ignorant public. Yeats thought that he was a man of the people, but the people do not appreciate art, there is no such thing as an everyday man of Ireland.

In the first section of the poem Yeats refers to his ideal reader, a simple fisherman. Yeats uses a lot of detail, “gray Connemara clothes” “freckled man” to show that he has put a great deal of thought into who he wants to write his poetry for. Yeats shows that he wants his readers to be skilled and intelligent by making the fisherman “cast his flies” – fly fishing being a very skilful art. Yeats refers to this man as “wise and simple”. This oxymoron highlights everything he wants his reader to be – wise and skilled, yet only needing to live simply, not wanting much. This fisherman gives a very pastoral image, the agricultural side of Ireland, showing that Yeats wants his readers to be engrossed in the culture and traditions of Ireland. Yeats suggests that he wants his readers to be of his “own race” – to be Irish to the bone, adhering to tradition and culture.

Yeats then displays the “reality” and lists the true nature of his readers, almost a list of things he despises them for. He references how he hates the “living men” and loves the “dead man” – a theme similar to ‘September 1913′ where he condemns the current Ireland and the people in it, and shows his love for “Romantic Ireland” and “O’Leary”. Yeats mentions how the public of Ireland have “beaten down” the “great Art”, showing their ignorance, how they’d prefer a “drunken cheer” than poetry. The use of the word “commonest” highlights this fact, that the people of Ireland are nothing special.

In the last stanza Yeats acknowledges that his “audience” is not what he wanted, and so he had to imagine “a man” – the simple fisherman described in the first section of the poem. This repetition of the “sun-freckled face” and “gray Connemara cloth” emphasises the idealistic reader of Yeats’ imagination.
In the last few lines of the poem Yeats says the same thing twice but in different ways, as if Yeats is telling himself, assuring himself:

“A man who does not exist,
A man who is but a dream;”

Yeats then promises himself that he will change his writing to become a ‘man of the people’ and relate to these ‘common’ people who don’t appreciate art, “I shall have written him one”.

Thanks for reading,
Jack

The Poetry of Yeats under a multitude of Headings

Feminism

Yeats does not appear in his poetry to be a particular feminist, yet we as readers have to realise that in those days it was frowned upon to do so. Yeats was living in a sexist and oppressive time, and seemed to realise that he couldn’t help women through his poetry, writing is not always about truth. However many of his poems suggest that he deeply admired women, and may have simply been a strong advocate for women who struggled to show his opinions in the time that he lived in. The woman he refers to most is Maud Gonne, the love of his life who didn’t love him back. His opinion of Gonne is obviously that of desire, yet also slight bitterness, as she does not love him. Gonne was very feminist, and stood up for women’s rights, and so Yeats most likely supported her views to try and win her affection. Yeats also mentions Constance Markiewicz and Eva Gore-Booth in several of his poems, revolutionary leaders who he seemed to admire deeply (at least enough to write poems specifically about them). Yeats was obsessed with the Occult, which rejected the sexist norms and was very pro equality, thus we can assume that he also took this stance.

A good source of information about Yeats and women:
http://writing.colostate.edu/gallery/phantasmagoria/poehler.htm

Post-Colonialism

To understand how Yeats wrote in a post-colonial style we must first understand definitions of post-colonialism itself. Post-Colonialism can be split into several subjects, though the subject I found that reflected in Yeats’ poetry the most is this:

Social and cultural change or erosion: It seems that after independence is achieved, one main question arises; what is the new cultural identity?

Yeats examines the idea of change very often in his poetry, especially considering change in Ireland and change in people. For example, in ‘September 1913’ Yeats compares the Ireland of 1913 to “Romantic Ireland”, and in ‘Easter 1916’ Yeats compares the “vainglorious lout” of MacBride who abused Gonne to the revolutionary hero – “transformed utterly” from what he was due to his brave and heroic actions. ‘Easter 1916’ is heavily about change, “all changed, changed utterly” and how the revolution has changed the society of Ireland.

Good sources of information about Yeats and Post Colonialism:

Click to access A-post-colonial-look-Yeats-and-War-Poems.pdf


http://postcolonialstudies.emory.edu/w-b-yeats-and-postcolonialism/

Thanks for reading,
Jack

A Chilly Paradise (An analysis of ‘The Cold Heaven’ by W.B. Yeats)

The whole of ‘The Cold Heaven’ is a dramatic metaphor for Yeats’ emotion, having realised that Maud Gonne (the love of his life) will probably never accept him. The poem is a 1st person narrative, with one stanza of free verse. Enjambment makes the poem sound like a rush of thoughts, as does the irregularity of the line lengths, yet this also gives Yeats space to explain his emotions. The fact that the poem itself is short reflects the fact that Yeats now believes life is short, his life has ended now that Gonne has gone. It is made up of one sentence of Yeats looking up at the sky and pondering about unrequited love and then another reflecting on the idea of the afterlife. The poem is in a Romantic style, heavily influenced and inspired by the works of other poets, such as William Blake.

The title itself is a paradox, heaven should be seem warm and gentle, whereas the use of the word “cold” makes it sound harsh. “Cold” is also the equal and opposite to the ‘hot’ of hell. This title immediately shows that Yeats opinion of heaven has changed now he’s lost Gonne, he imagined he would spend eternity with her there, but now it just seems lonely.

The poem brings you straight into the Yeats’ thoughts with the use of the word “Suddenly” and immediately expresses how Yeats’ opinion of heaven has changed as he has lost Gonne, “rook delighting heaven”. The rook is a death omen, which makes it sound like heaven is delighted by death. Yeats also refers to his relationship with Gonne by using an oxymoron:

“ice burned”

This seems doubly torturous, two extremes linking together. This could be interpreted as symbolising the idea that some relationships do not work, such as his relationship with Gonne.

Yeats refers back to the times he had with Gonne, of the “memories” they’d shared. He reflects back on the “hot blood of youth” – showing how he was much more energetic and passionate when he believed Gonne may have loved him back. Now he has realised that this is not the case, he has lost any energy or passion he previously possessed. Yeats also references “love crossed long ago” which could refer to the fact that his love of Gonne just passed her, she didn’t notice it, yet it could be alluding to the ‘star crossed lovers’: Romeo and Juliet in the works of Shakespeare. 

This poem could almost be seen as a symbolisation for sexual purgatory, as Yeats is not able to now engage in sexual activites with Gonne, and so he uses a variety of sexual terms, “hot blood”, “cried and trembled”, “rocked to and fro”.

Yeats questions his faith in the last few lines, suggesting that people only seem to accept things “as the books say” – a reference to the Bible and the strict faith of the Catholics at the time. He then questions God himself, talking about the “injustice of the skies” – almost saying; ‘Who is God to judge us?’. The poem ends with a rhetorical question, which shows that there is no answer to life – only questions.

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Thanks for reading,

Jack

An analysis of Easter 1916

‘Easter 1916’ is a poem written by W.B. Yeats about the Easter Rising, where Irish Revolutionaries tried to prevent Great Britain ruling over Ireland. Many of the leaders were executed for their part, and this poem is almost an elegy for them. The 1st and 3rd stanzas have 16 lines to represent 1916, the 2nd and 4th stanzas have 24 lines to represent April 24 , the day the rising started. There are 4 stanzas to represent April, the 4th month. 

Yeats uses a first person narrative in the first stanza to show his opinion of the people he sees on his journey, this emphasises that it’s his personal view. The poem immediately begins with Yeats differentiating himself from “them” – the “vivid faces” of young revolutionaries. He talks to them with “polite meaningless words” showing that he thinks they’re insignificant. Yeats also mocks them, while walking he thinks of a “mocking tale or a gibe” to tell his friends at “the club”. He also calls the revolutionaries clowns, “where motley is worn” which shows he has little respect for them. At the end of this stanza Yeats uses an oxymoron:

“A terrible beauty is born.”

The ‘terrible beauty’ is the revolution, it is terrible as it will cause bloodshed and needless death, but it is beautiful as it is uniting Ireland and creating a common dream of independence.

The second stanza is elegiac, talking of three leaders of the revolution who died (and one who didn’t). Yeats firstly speaks of a “woman”, Constance Markiewicz, a revolutionary and politician. Yeats obviously doesn’t think highly of her – calling her “ignorant”. He also condemns her for spending her “nights in argument” – I think this means she didn’t fight as much as some, she said her views in secret, at night. The next person Yeats talks about is Pearse, who had “kept a school”, he was both a teacher and writer. Yeats also mentions Pearse’s “helper and friend” MacDonagh. Yeats mentions their jobs to show their humanity – they weren’t just heroes. This also shows that common citizens can make a difference if they rise against conformity.

The last person Yeats mentions in this stanza is described as a “drunken, vainglorious lout”. This person is Major John MacBride who Yeats hated as he was an abusive husband (he had done ‘most bitter wrong’) to his wife Maud Gonne (who was loved by Yeats, was ‘near’ his heart). Yeats puts him “in the song” anyway, overcoming his personal emotion, and shows that MacBride should be respected for helping the cause. He remarks that MacBride has “transformed utterly” – he has overcome his weakness’ and established himself as a hero in the memory of Ireland. He also refers to life as a “casual comedy” – showing how it is undervalued.

The third stanza is heavily based around nature. Yeats uses the imagery of a “stone” that “troubles the living stream”. This is a metaphor for the revolutionaries, they are the stones, they have hard and rigid views, and are troubling the “living stream” of Ireland by starting a revolution. This image could also be interpreted to represent those who are too scared to fight, they are stopping the revolution from succeeding like a stone stops a stream from flowing. Yeats also uses the image of “cloud to tumbling cloud” to represent change, and the “shadow of cloud on a stream” to represent a storm ahead, the revolution. Another image he uses is that of a “horse” that “slides on the brim” of a river, disturbing the natural habitat of the “moor-hens” – also to represent the revolution.

The image of the stone changes in the last stanza to represent how the hearts of the revolutionaries (and to an extent the hearts of Ireland) have been hardened by the fighting:

“Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart,”

Yeats questions when bloodshed is necessary throughout this stanza, “O when may it suffice?”, “Was it needless death after all?”, asking many rhetorical questions to make the reader think. I personally think that there is a very strong message in lines 60 – 64, where he says that it is “our part” to “name” each other “as a mother names her child when sleep at last has come”. I believe that this is a reference to blessing, a mother blessing her child before death, and therefore we must bless the memory of the revolutionaries with respect. Yeats also uses a euphemism (using ‘sleep’ instead of death) backwards to emphasise that it is death we’re discussing, “No, no. not night but death;”. The end of this stanza is a lasting legacy for the leaders of the revolution who were killed. Yeats says that it was their patriotism, their ‘excess of love’ that lead them to their death, and this is almost a warning to the reader, to not be ‘bewildered’ by love for where we live, because it doesn’t always end well. Yeats then lists the names of four leaders who died as a lasting legacy for future readers. He then suggests that whenever and ‘wherever green is worn’ to represent the spirit of Ireland these leaders and the revolutionaries will be remembered and will live on to influence and inspire future generations – they themselves are the ‘terrible beauty’ born in Easter 1916

Thanks for reading,
Jack

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