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

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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