Language Devices and Themes in Yeats

I’ve been instructed by my teacher to break the poems down into lines (using Excel Spreadsheet) and labelling them with the technique used so that I can then identify the main themes in each poem. I thought I would record them here as they are useful!

Among School Children

  • Comparative Language (Comparing ‘present day Gonne’ to ‘child Gonne’ and Mothers with Nuns)
  • Questioning Language (Questioning the point of life – specifically through childbirth etc)
  • Mythical Imagery (‘Ledaean body’ etc, referring to Maud Gonne but still creating images)
  • Language of Unity (How can we know the dancer from the dance?’)

An Irish Airman Foresees his Death

  • Patriotic Language (Not interested in the war, “Those that I fight I do not hate” – he is only interested in his own country, “My country is Kiltartan Cross,”)
  • Language of Choice (Chose to fight, he “balanced all”)

Broken Dreams

  • Romantic Language (again referring to Maud Gonne)
  • Repetition (to emphasise his “Vague memories” being “nothing but” that)
  • Language of Aging (“old gaffer”)
  • References to Gyres (Yeats hoping for a new start “all, shall be renewed”)

Easter 1916

  • Criticism of Society (“polite meaningless words” given to the complacent Irish)
  • Repetition (“A terrible beauty is born”)
  • Specific references to people’s lives and events (“MacDonagh and MacBride And Connolly and Pearse”)
  • Metaphors (The “horse-hoof” sliding on the brim representing trouble starting etc, the “stone” troubling the “living stream” of Ireland)

In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markiewicz

  • Imagery (Grotesque “skeleton gaunt”, Grandiose “Great Windows” “silk kimonos”)
  • Metaphors (“raving autumn shears” representing the physical changes of aging; “strike a match” representing a new start, change and idea of Gyres)
  • Repetition  (“Two girls in silk kimonos”, emphasising topic)
  • Language of Change, (“strike a match” representing ideas of revolution)

Leda and the Swan

  • Language of Power (Representing Swan “great wings” “dark webs”)
  • Language of Weakness (Representing Leda “helpless” “terrified”)
  • Strong Imagery (“strange heart beating” – imagery showing the oddness of the situation)

Man and The Echo

  • Critical Language towards Society (Yeats disapproving of “Wine or love” drugging people)
  • Repetition (Echo repeating Man to show how words can be misinterpreted)
  • Rhetorical Questions (“Shall we in that great night rejoice?” Whole poem questioning his life and life in general)
  • Distracted language (“And its cry distracts my thoughts” ends poem on odd note)

Sailing to Byzantium

  • Pastoral Imagery (First section, land of mortal men, “dying generations” “salmon falls”)
  • Grandiose Imagery (Land of immortal art “gold” “Monuments”)
  • Juxtapositions (Mix of different views, Religious “holy fire” in same sentence as the occult beliefs of “gyre”s – almost a mix of both to show doubt)

September 1913

  • Imagery (“fumble in a greasy till” – vivid images)
  • References to Historical Events (“For this Edward FitzGerald died”)
  • Criticism of Society (Disgust at the new Ireland)
  • Repetition (“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone”)

The Cat and the Moon

  • Language of Change (Idea of gyres and the idea that Yeats wants to change his and Gonne’s relationship – “changing eyes”)
  • Rhetorical Questions (“do you dance?”)
  • Metaphor (“dance” representing a courtship between Gonne and Yeats, the Cat and Moon being metaphors for them)

The Cold Heaven

  • Oxymorons (“ice burned” – idea of two opposites coming together like him and Gonne)
  • Reminiscent language (“Vanished, and left but memories” – his relationship with Gonne never started, just ideas)
  • Sexual language (Representing the sexual relationship he wishes to have with Gonne, “Ah!” “To and fro”)
  • Rhetorical question (Questioning religion “as the books say”)

The Fisherman

  • Pastoral Imagery (“freckled man” – idealistic readers)
  • View of society (Critical imagery, the contrast, “living men that I hate”)

The Second Coming

  • Language of Chaos (represents the apocalyptic ideas, “Mere anarchy”)
  • Religious References (“Surely some revelation is at hand;”)
  • Rhetorical Questions (Questions religion, almost blasphemy, “Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”)

The Stolen Child

  • Repetition (Tries to emphasise the faeries point of view that they’re helping the child escape the “weeping”
  • Mythical imagery and fantasy style language (Shows the ethereal nature – “faery vats” “reddest stolen cherries”)
  • Pastoral imagery (“oatmeal chest” represents the warm home he’s leaving)

Wild Swans At Coole

  • Language of Change (“Twilight” “Autumn” shows the changes since he was last there)
  • Cold Pastoral imagery (Nature, “Mirrors a still sky;”)
  • Lonely language (“nine-and-fifty swans” emphasises that one is alone, “my heart is sore” – Yeats is old and lonely)
  • Onomatopeia (Shows power of swans, “bell-beat”)

Thanks for reading,

Jack

Advertisements

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 

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

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