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

 

 

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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:
http://www.ijstr.org/final-print/sep2012/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.

Image

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