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. 

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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,