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   

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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

 

 

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