Writing For Free Ireland: Yeat Essay, Research Paper
OAC English Period 3
Writing for Free Ireland: Yeats s Poetry
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet, a dramatist, and a prose writer – one of the greatest English-language poets of the twentieth century. (Yeats 1) His early poetry and drama acquired ideas from Irish fable and arcane study. (Eiermann 1) Yeats used the themes of nationalism, freedom from oppression, social division, and unity when writing about his country. Yeats, an Irish nationalist, used the three poems, To Ireland in the Coming Times, September 1913 and Easter 1916 which revealed an expression of his feelings about the War of Irish Independence through theme, mood and figurative language.
The theme of nationalism dominates in To Ireland in the Coming times and in Easter 1916. In the former poem, Yeats suggested the idea of Irish brotherhood to achieve justice for Ireland, True brother of a company, that sang, to sweeten Ireland s wrong (Finneran 50). Although he wanted to fight for Ireland s freedom, he did not participate in any military activities. Instead, he used songs and poems to reflect the situation in Ireland:
I cast my heart into my rhymes,
That you, in the dim coming times,
May know how my heart went with them (Finneran 51)
In the latter poem, he mentioned the names of the national heroes such as MacDonagh who died for the rebellion (Abrams 2308) and said, Now and in time to be, / Whenever green is worn, (Finneran 182). Green was the colour of the soldiers uniforms and also the national colour of Ireland which alluded that the war was still going on in Ireland.
The theme of freedom from oppression was introduced in September 1913. Although Yeats loved his country, he often criticized it. He left Ireland after he published this poem which stated that the Ireland of his imagination no longer existed, Romantic Ireland s dead and gone, it s with O Leary in the grave. (Finneran 108). Yeats implied that Irish freedom fighters, such as O Leary, have died in vain. He also inferred that there were no longer any people who were willing to fight for Ireland:
Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind, (Finneran 108)
The contemporary Roman Catholic middle classes had defeated the cause for which Yeats fought for at that time; hence Yeats felt oppressed by his own people. (Abram 2303)
The theme of social division appeared in September 1913 because Yeats detested the middle classes and their Philistine money grabbing (Abrams 2303) as describe in the first three lines:
What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence (Finneran 108)
To Yeats, the middle classes had forgotten their own history. They insulted the memories of the Irish heroes who fought for freedom and the rights to be Catholic. Through this poem, Yeats suggested that the middle classes only cared about money, not the freedom of their country. He tended to romanticize the aristocracy and peasants but hated the middle classes for their indifference to Ireland. (Abrams 2303) Yeats also implied that because of the selfishness, they made everything meaningless, destroying the romantic Ireland.
In contrast, the poems To Ireland in the Coming Times and Easter 1916 carry the theme of unity. In the former poem, Yeats said, That you, in the dim coming times, / May know how my heart went with them (Finneran 51). He was saying that his dreams for Ireland would live on even when he was dead. Yeats wrote the latter poem after the Easter Rebellion. (Abrams 2307) It expressed the theme of unity by Yeats s action of returning to Ireland and reconciling with the middle classes. This happened when he realized that the middle classes was behind the rebellion. He used the word our in both poems, which also revealed a strong idea of unity.
Yeats used different tones in these poems because they were written in three different stages of his career. To Ireland in the Coming Times was written in 1896 during the early stage of Yeats s career. He created a sentimental and nostalgic mood when he wrote, Ah, faeries, dancing under the moon, / A Druid land, a Druid tune! (Finneran 50). In his mind, Ireland was an idyllic, enchanted place. By mentioning druids, he was honouring Ireland s past. Elsewhere, he said, Nor be I any less of them, / Because the red-rose-bordered hem (Finneran 50). Yeats was upset about the war in Ireland and the death of the nationalists. In this poem, he thought that Ireland was a glorious and romantic land. However, after the war of Irish Independence, the beauty was stained with blood. Yeats s task was to recapture Ireland s glory.
September 1913 was written in the year 1913 during the war of Irish Independence. He changed his mood from sentimental to resentful and pessimistic, since the Roman Catholic middle classes had done nothing to protect their country. Yeats resented their attitudes towards the country, which made Yeats resent them as a whole. He expressed his thought through this poem and by leaving Ireland to show his dissatisfaction.
In 1916, Yeats returned to Ireland because he acknowledged that the middle classes had Irish honour. In previous poems, Yeats mentions the names of freedom fighters in order to define the idea of Irish honour. In Easter 1916, Yeats named the middle classes heroes who fought in the Easter rebellion. By doing so, he symbolically included them in Irish history. The poem was a retraction of September. (Abrams 1946) The mood in this poem was harmonic and he apologized in the poem by saying:
Polite meaningless words
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion (Finneran 180)
These lines reveal his regret about misjudging them. Moreover, there was a high cost to find out that truth. Thus, the mood was bittersweet, All changed, changed utterly / A terrible beauty is born (Finneran 180). Throughout the poem, Yeats hinted that the war between the British and Irish would continue. However, he suggested that although Ireland would be the eventual victor in the battle, many Irish people would sacrifice their lives during the war. Therefore, he reminded the audience that there was a terrible price for freedom.
Yeats used figurative language to indicate the situation in Ireland. The poetic devices that he mainly used in these poems were symbolism, imagery, personification and oxymoron. Symbolism was widely used in September 1913 and Easter 1916. In the former poem, he used wild geese spread and wing upon every tide (Finneran 108) to symbolize the nationalists who fled to different countries such as Spain, France and Austria. The names of some of the nationalists who sacrificed their lives fighting for freedom symbolize the glory of Ireland. Symbolism was also used in the title of the latter poem. The title word Easter (Finneran 180) referred to the resurrection of Christ, so it symbolized rebirth. Thus, it also symbolized the rebirth of Yeats connection with Ireland and his opinion of the middle classes.
In To Ireland in the Coming Times, Yeats said, Because the red-rose-bordered hem, of her, whose history began. Yeats was personifying Ireland as a woman wearing a dress. Yeats wanted to imply that the history of Ireland was born by comparing with a woman who was giving birth after a difficult labour with red symbolizing blood. Another example of personifying Ireland as a human being was made Ireland as a human being to beat. * The heartbeat could symbolize life, which meant the history of Ireland began and would live on.
Imagery is sensory or pictorial language that is used to enrich meaning. It may appeal to the eye, ear, taste, smell, touch, or movement, and it may be used symbolically. It often conveys through similes, metaphors, or personifications. (Rosenberg 877)
Imagery was one of the important elements in the poem To Ireland in the Coming Times and September 1913. Yeats used the image of candles being lit to refer the beginning of the Irish history in the poem To Ireland in the Coming Times. He wrote, And time bade all his candles flare, / To light a measure here and there (Finneran 50). He was creating an image of light shining all over Ireland to allude to the dawn of history in Ireland. An example of imagery that Yeats used in September 1913 described the marrow being dried from the bone. He wrote, And prayer to shivering prayer, until you have dried the marrow from the bone (Finneran 108). The inclusion of this cruel image was to bring a message that taking money from other people was as cruel as sucking out the marrow from their bones.
An oxymoron is a paradoxical utterance conjoining two terms that are contrary in ordinary usage. (Abrams 127) In Easter 1916, Yeats used an oxymoron to reveal the future of Ireland by saying this line, A terrible beauty is born. (Finneran 180). He repeated this statement in every stanza, for a total of four times. When this line was first read, it seemed impossible because these two words contradicted each other. However, this contradiction existed in Ireland and predicted the future of this place. Yeats was using terrible to describe the Irish people who died in the war while beauty was used to describe the future victory of Ireland and the unity of those who were fighting for freedom.
The themes in Yeats s To Ireland in the Coming Times, September 1913 and Easter 1916 left the readers with a deep impression about Irish nationalism. These poems described the changes in Ireland and expressed Yeats s opinion about each period according to each situation. He also tried to make his readers more concerned about Ireland. The moods he created also played an important role in these three poems. They were powerful and direct, leading his readers to feel the same way he did. The usage of figurative language could support the themes and moods that he used in different poems and he persuaded his readers to believe what he said was true. When comparing these three different elements in the poems, mood is the most effective technique since nationalism is based on the emotions one feels for one s country. The mood is what links the themes and figurative language that attract readers attention.