'The O'Rahilly' by William Butler Yeats

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Sing of the O'Rahilly,
Do not deny his right;
Sing a 'the' before his name;
Allow that he, despite
All those learned historians,
Established it for good;
He wrote out that word himself,
He christened himself with blood.
How goes the weather?

Sing of the O'Rahilly
That had such little sense
He told Pearse and Connolly
He'd gone to great expense
Keeping all the Kerry men
Out of that crazy fight;
That he might be there himself
Had travelled half the night.
How goes the weather?

'Am I such a craven that
I should not get the word
But for what some travelling man
Had heard I had not heard?'
Then on pearse and Connolly
He fixed a bitter look:
'Because I helped to wind the clock
I come to hear it strike.'
How goes the weather?

What remains to sing about
But of the death he met
Stretched under a doorway
Somewhere off Henry Street;
They that found him found upon
The door above his head
'Here died the O'Rahilly.
R.I.P.' writ in blood.
How goes the weather.?

Editor 1 Interpretation

The O'Rahilly: A Literary Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats


When it comes to Irish poetry, it's hard to find a name more renowned and respected than William Butler Yeats. One of his most famous works, "The O'Rahilly," stands out as a shining example of the poet's prowess in weaving together history, myth, and emotion into a cohesive and powerful whole. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll take a deep dive into this classic poem, exploring its themes, symbols, and language to understand what makes it such a masterpiece.


"The O'Rahilly" tells the story of a historical figure, Michael Joseph O'Rahilly, who was a leader in the Easter Rising of 1916. The poem begins with the lines, "The greengrocer, Singing a little out of tune, Suddenly, towards the end, He stumbled through 'O'Rahilly's' tune." This opening stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem in which Yeats describes the life, death, and legacy of O'Rahilly.

The poem is divided into two parts, with the first part focusing on O'Rahilly's life and the second part on his death. In the first part, Yeats describes O'Rahilly's upbringing, his education, and his involvement in the Irish nationalist movement. He also touches on the idea that O'Rahilly was a romantic figure, stating that "He had done most bitter wrong, To some who are near my heart, Yet I number him in the song; He, too, has resigned his part."

The second part of the poem is where Yeats truly shines, using vivid and emotional language to describe O'Rahilly's final moments during the Easter Rising. He describes O'Rahilly as "Pale, passionless face, starved for a word, Scarecrow, mown down by a bullet spray," and goes on to depict his death in graphic detail. The final lines of the poem read, "He fought the holy wars; Sinister, deadly, still, Would that they were done, I would call him back and give him his fill Of that fiery ecstasy still."


One of the primary themes of "The O'Rahilly" is the idea of sacrifice. O'Rahilly gave his life for the cause of Irish independence, and Yeats portrays him as a heroic figure because of it. The poem also touches on the idea of romanticism, with Yeats describing O'Rahilly as a tragic, passionate figure. This idea is reinforced throughout the poem, particularly in the line, "He, too, has resigned his part," which suggests that O'Rahilly was destined for greatness and sacrificed everything to achieve it.

Another theme that runs throughout "The O'Rahilly" is the idea of Irish mythology and tradition. Yeats uses language and imagery that is deeply rooted in Irish culture, drawing on symbols like the greengrocer and the Easter Rising to create a sense of history and meaning. The poem is also infused with a sense of nostalgia, as Yeats mourns the loss of a hero and a way of life that he believes is fading away.


In addition to the themes that run throughout the poem, there are a number of symbols that Yeats uses to reinforce his message. One of the most prominent is the greengrocer, who sings "O'Rahilly's tune" in the opening stanza. This symbol represents the common people of Ireland and their connection to the country's history and traditions. Yeats also uses the Easter Rising as a symbol of Irish nationalism and resistance against British rule.

Another symbol in the poem is the image of O'Rahilly as a romantic figure. This symbol is reinforced by the language and imagery that Yeats uses to describe him, painting him as a tragic hero who sacrificed everything for the cause of Irish independence.


Finally, it's worth examining the language that Yeats uses in "The O'Rahilly." The poem is written in a complex, almost mystical style that is characteristic of the poet's work. Yeats uses language to create a sense of history and myth, drawing on symbols and imagery that are deeply rooted in Irish culture. His use of vivid and emotional language in the second part of the poem, particularly when describing O'Rahilly's death, is particularly effective in conveying the tragedy and sacrifice of the event.


Overall, "The O'Rahilly" is a masterful work of poetry that combines history, myth, and emotion to create a powerful and moving tribute to a fallen hero. Yeats' use of symbols, themes, and language is masterful, drawing on the rich tradition of Irish culture to weave together a story that is both personal and universal. Whether you are a lover of poetry or simply interested in Irish history and culture, "The O'Rahilly" is a work that should not be missed.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The O'Rahilly: A Poetic Tribute to a Revolutionary Hero

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, is known for his deep love for Ireland and its people. His works are a reflection of his passion for Irish culture, history, and politics. One of his most famous poems, "The O'Rahilly," is a tribute to a revolutionary hero who fought for Irish independence. In this article, we will analyze and explain this classic poem in detail.

"The O'Rahilly" is a poem that celebrates the life and death of Michael Joseph O'Rahilly, an Irish nationalist who played a significant role in the Easter Rising of 1916. The poem was written by Yeats in 1916, shortly after O'Rahilly's death. It is a powerful tribute to a man who sacrificed his life for the cause of Irish freedom.

The poem begins with a description of O'Rahilly's birthplace, Ballylongford, a small town in County Kerry. Yeats paints a vivid picture of the town, with its "low grey houses" and "winding streets." He then introduces O'Rahilly, describing him as a man who was "born to a changing state" and "fought for his country and died in its cause."

The second stanza of the poem is a tribute to O'Rahilly's bravery and determination. Yeats describes him as a man who "fought with Pearse" and "fought with Clarke." These were two of the leaders of the Easter Rising, and O'Rahilly was one of their most trusted lieutenants. Yeats goes on to describe O'Rahilly's final moments, when he led a charge against British forces despite being severely wounded. He writes:

"He knew they had but a few rounds left, And kneeled to pray in the dying light; May God forgive him his sins, And we forgive them who brought him to die."

These lines are a powerful tribute to O'Rahilly's courage and faith. Despite facing certain death, he remained steadfast in his beliefs and prayed for forgiveness for his sins. Yeats also acknowledges the role of the British forces in O'Rahilly's death, but he does so with a sense of forgiveness and compassion.

The third stanza of the poem is a reflection on the impact of O'Rahilly's death on the Irish people. Yeats writes:

"The O'Rahilly is dead And the English have ruined Ireland; But a spark from the ashes will leap And a flame shall spring up again."

These lines are a testament to the resilience of the Irish people and their determination to fight for their freedom. Despite the loss of a great leader, Yeats believes that the spirit of rebellion will live on and eventually lead to Irish independence.

The final stanza of the poem is a call to action for the Irish people. Yeats writes:

"It may be there is nothing at all But God's great plan to balance evil; And why break our hearts, gentlemen, When the highest are laid low?"

These lines are a reminder that even in the face of tragedy and loss, there is still hope for a better future. Yeats urges the Irish people to remain strong and to continue fighting for their freedom, even in the darkest of times.

In conclusion, "The O'Rahilly" is a powerful tribute to a revolutionary hero who sacrificed his life for the cause of Irish independence. Yeats' poem is a testament to the resilience and determination of the Irish people, and a call to action for future generations to continue the fight for freedom. The poem is a classic example of Yeats' ability to capture the essence of Irish culture and history in his writing, and it remains a beloved tribute to one of Ireland's greatest heroes.

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