'The Great Day' by William Butler Yeats

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Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Great Day: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats

Oh, how I am excited to write this literary criticism and interpretation for one of my favorite poems of all time, The Great Day by William Butler Yeats. This masterpiece is a complex and intriguing work that demands a deeper understanding of Yeats' intricate symbolism and poetic techniques. Let us explore this poem and unravel its hidden meanings and literary significance.


William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, known for his profound influence on modernist poetry and Irish literature. His works are renowned for their use of symbolism, mysticism, and romanticism. Yeats was deeply interested in Irish mythology, symbolism, and the occult, which inspired many of his literary works.

The Great Day was written in 1914, during a time of great political and social upheaval in Ireland. The poem reflects Yeats' disillusionment with modernity and his desire to reconnect with the spiritual roots of Irish culture. It is considered one of his most complex and cryptic works, and has been subject to numerous interpretations and critical analyses.

Literary Analysis

The Great Day is a poem comprised of 12 quatrains, each containing an ABAB rhyme scheme. The poem is divided into two parts, with the first six quatrains depicting a scene of nature, while the latter six quatrains describe a vision of apocalypse and rebirth.

Nature Imagery

The opening lines of the poem set the tone for the natural world that is about to be described:

When the dawn comes forth
And the mountains turn to stone,
White horses stand in the meadows
Where the river runs alone.

These lines evoke a sense of tranquility and stillness, as the dawn breaks and the mountains appear as if they are made of stone. The white horses standing in the meadows represent purity and innocence, while the river running alone symbolizes the isolation of the natural world from the chaos of human civilization.

The following quatrain describes a scene of trees rustling in the wind:

The trees fall in the water;
The wood-bridge rots in the reeds;
The wood-bridge footsteps echo
In the rutted road of beads.

The rustling of trees and the echoing footsteps of the wood-bridge create a sense of rhythm and movement, while the wood-bridge rotting in the reeds symbolizes the decay and impermanence of human constructions.

The third quatrain describes a scene of birds flying in the sky:

The light falls on a gray wing
And the bird's head bent to the ground
Finds darkness in a leafy place
Where the loosened waters drown.

The gray wing of the bird represents the fleeting nature of beauty, while the bird's head bent to the ground symbolizes humility and submission to the natural order. The darkness in the leafy place represents the hidden mysteries of nature, while the loosened waters drowning symbolizes the powerful and uncontrollable forces of nature.

Apocalyptic Imagery

The second half of the poem takes a dramatic turn, describing a vision of apocalypse and rebirth. The seventh quatrain begins with the line:

The day is at an end.

This line marks a turning point in the poem, as the tranquility of nature is disrupted by the approaching apocalypse. The following quatrain describes a scene of destruction and chaos:

The shadows grow on the hill,
The dead leap up and down,
And the ghosts come out of the doors
And dance like swallows on the town.

The shadows on the hill represent the darkness that is descending upon the world, while the dead leaping up and down symbolize the chaos and confusion of the apocalypse. The ghosts dancing like swallows on the town represent the fleeting and ethereal nature of life, as well as the idea that the dead are not truly gone, but continue to exist in the spiritual realm.

The ninth and tenth quatrains describe a scene of rebirth and renewal:

The grain falls in the furrow
And rots in the darkness of earth;
And out of the rotten wheat
Something else will come to birth.

The grain falling in the furrow symbolizes the end of one cycle of life and the beginning of another. The rotten wheat represents the decay of the old world, while the birth of something new represents the potential for a fresh start and a better future.

The final two quatrains describe a scene of transformation and transcendence:

The soul takes flight
To the land where the dead dance,
The soul takes flight
To the land of the great romance.

The soul taking flight represents the final transformation and transcendence of humanity, as it leaves behind the old world and enters the spiritual realm. The land where the dead dance represents the afterlife, while the land of the great romance represents the idealized world that is yet to be achieved.


The Great Day is a deeply symbolic and mystical work that reflects Yeats' desire to reconnect with the spiritual roots of Irish culture. The natural world and the apocalypse are used as metaphors for the cyclical nature of life and the potential for transformation and transcendence.

The poem can be interpreted as a critique of modernity and the spiritual emptiness that accompanies it. Yeats believed that modernity had separated humanity from its spiritual roots and that it was only through a return to those roots that true progress could be achieved.

The Great Day can also be interpreted as a reflection of Yeats' own spiritual journey. The poem reflects his interest in Irish mythology, symbolism, and the occult, and his desire to achieve a greater understanding of the spiritual world. The apocalyptic imagery can be seen as a metaphor for the spiritual transformation that Yeats himself underwent in his later years.


The Great Day is a profound and complex work that demands a deeper understanding of Yeats' intricate symbolism and poetic techniques. The use of nature imagery and apocalyptic imagery creates a powerful contrast between the tranquility of the natural world and the chaos of the apocalypse. The poem can be interpreted as a critique of modernity and a reflection of Yeats' own spiritual journey. It is a masterpiece of Irish literature and a testament to the enduring power of poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Great Day: An Analysis of William Butler Yeats’ Classic Poem

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, known for his evocative and mystical poetry that explores themes of love, death, and the supernatural. One of his most famous poems is “The Great Day,” a powerful and enigmatic work that has captivated readers for generations. In this article, we will explore the meaning and significance of this classic poem, and delve into the rich symbolism and imagery that Yeats employs to create a truly unforgettable work of art.

The poem begins with a description of a “great day” that is coming, a day that is filled with “light and with dancing.” The speaker of the poem is clearly excited and anticipatory, as he describes the “crowds upon the roadway, flags and races” that will mark this momentous occasion. The language is vivid and colorful, with Yeats using words like “glory” and “splendor” to convey the sense of excitement and joy that permeates the scene.

As the poem progresses, however, we begin to sense that there is something more going on beneath the surface. The speaker describes “the trumpets of the armies, the bugles calling,” and we get the sense that this is not just a celebration, but a gathering of forces for some kind of conflict or battle. Yeats’ use of military imagery is deliberate and effective, as it creates a sense of tension and urgency that contrasts with the initial sense of joy and celebration.

The poem takes a darker turn as the speaker describes the “great battle” that is about to take place. He speaks of “the clash of spears and shields,” and we can almost hear the sounds of battle ringing in our ears. The language becomes more intense and urgent, with Yeats using phrases like “the red sun roaring” and “the thunder of the captains and the shouting” to convey the chaos and violence of the scene.

Despite the violence and destruction that is taking place, however, there is a sense of hope and optimism that runs throughout the poem. The speaker describes “the triumph of the gallant, the glory of the wise,” and we get the sense that this is not just a battle for power or territory, but a struggle for something greater and more meaningful. Yeats’ use of religious imagery is particularly effective here, as he speaks of “the hosts of the faithful” and “the saints and the martyrs” who are fighting for a higher cause.

As the poem comes to a close, the speaker describes the aftermath of the battle, with “the dead lying under the hill” and “the living hurrying away.” There is a sense of sadness and loss here, as we realize that many lives have been lost in this great conflict. But there is also a sense of triumph and victory, as the speaker describes “the banners of the kings” and “the trumpets of the armies” that signal the end of the battle.

In the final lines of the poem, Yeats leaves us with a sense of mystery and ambiguity, as the speaker describes “the darkness falling” and “the stars shining.” We are left to wonder what has happened, and what the future holds for the survivors of this great battle. But there is also a sense of hope and possibility, as we realize that even in the midst of darkness and chaos, there is still beauty and light to be found.

Overall, “The Great Day” is a powerful and evocative poem that explores themes of conflict, struggle, and triumph. Yeats’ use of vivid imagery and rich symbolism creates a sense of urgency and intensity that draws the reader in and keeps them engaged throughout. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply looking for a thought-provoking and inspiring work of literature, “The Great Day” is a must-read that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

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