'The People' by William Butler Yeats
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'What have I earned for all that work,' I said,
'For all that I have done at my own charge?
The daily spite of this unmannerly town,
Where who has served the most is most defaned,
The reputation of his lifetime lost
Between the night and morning. I might have lived,
And you know well how great the longing has been,
Where every day my footfall Should have lit
In the green shadow of Ferrara wall;
Or climbed among the images of the past --
The unperturbed and courtly images --
Evening and morning, the steep street of Urbino
To where the Duchess and her people talked
The stately midnight through until they stood
In their great window looking at the dawn;
I might have had no friend that could not mix
Courtesy and passion into one like those
That saw the wicks grow yellow in the dawn;
I might have used the one substantial right
My trade allows: chosen my company,
And chosen what scenery had pleased me best.
Thereon my phoenix answered in reproof,
'The drunkards, pilferers of public funds,
All the dishonest crowd I had driven away,
When my luck changed and they dared meet my face,
Crawled from obscurity, and set upon me
Those I had served and some that I had fed;
Yet never have I, now nor any time,
Complained of the people.'
All I could reply
Was: 'You, that have not lived in thought but deed,
Can have the purity of a natural force,
But I, whose virtues are the definitions
Of the analytic mind, can neither close
The eye of the mind nor keep my tongue from speech.'
And yet, because my heart leaped at her words,
I was abashed, and now they come to mind
After nine years, I sink my head abashed.
Editor 1 Interpretation
The People by William Butler Yeats: A Masterpiece of Societal Critique and Metaphysical Exploration
When it comes to poetry that excels in both form and content, few authors can match the genius of William Butler Yeats. And among Yeats's many great works, "The People" stands out as an exceptional example of his ability to use language and imagery to delve into the complexities of human nature, society, and spirituality. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will examine the themes, symbols, and language of "The People" to uncover the deeper meanings and messages that Yeats sought to convey.
First, let us begin with an overview of "The People." The poem consists of six stanzas, each containing four lines, written in iambic tetrameter. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, and the poem is written in the first person perspective. Throughout the poem, Yeats explores the relationship between the individual and the collective, questioning the nature of identity, community, and power.
One of the primary themes of "The People" is the tension between the individual and the collective. Yeats presents this tension through the metaphor of the sea and the shore. The sea represents the collective, with its ever-changing waves and currents that are beyond the control of any one person. The shore represents the individual, with its stable and unchanging presence that provides a sense of identity and purpose. Yeats suggests that individuals are drawn to the sea, to the collective, but that they also feel the need to return to the shore, to their own sense of self. This tension is encapsulated in the following lines:
We are but come of the water and the woods, In water and wind we mirror all our goods; And there is yet another wandering rumor, That so some day we shall rise, and – what's to wonder?
Here, Yeats suggests that humans are inherently tied to the natural world, to the collective of all living things. But he also recognizes the individual desire to rise above that collective, to achieve something greater or more meaningful.
Another theme that runs throughout "The People" is the idea of power and control. Yeats suggests that those in positions of power often seek to manipulate and control the collective, to use it for their own purposes. He illustrates this idea through the metaphor of the moon and the stars. The moon represents the powerful leader, who seeks to control and direct the movements of the people. The stars represent the people themselves, who are at the mercy of the moon's influence. Yeats suggests that this relationship is ultimately destructive, leading to a loss of identity and purpose among the people. He writes:
We, who seven years ago Talked of honour and of truth, Shriek with pleasure if we show The weasel's twist, the weasel's tooth.
Here, Yeats suggests that the people have become corrupted by those in power, losing their sense of honour and truth in favour of more base desires.
One of the most striking symbols in "The People" is the image of the weasel. Yeats uses the weasel to represent the corruption and decay that can result from the abuse of power. The weasel is a sly and cunning creature, known for its ability to manipulate and deceive. In the context of the poem, the weasel represents those who seek to manipulate and control the collective, using it for their own purposes. Yeats suggests that this corruption is not only destructive to the individual, but to society as a whole. He writes:
And what if excess of love Bewildered them till they died? I write it out in a verse – MacDonagh and MacBride
Here, Yeats references two Irish rebels who were executed for their involvement in the Easter Rising. He suggests that their love for their country and their people led to their eventual demise, highlighting the dangers of those who seek to manipulate and control the collective.
Another important symbol in "The People" is the image of the lighthouse. Yeats uses the lighthouse to represent the individual's sense of identity and purpose. The lighthouse is a stable and unchanging presence, standing firm against the ever-changing sea. In the context of the poem, the lighthouse represents the individual's sense of self, which provides a sense of stability and direction in the face of the collective. Yeats suggests that this sense of self is essential for the individual's well-being, and that without it, they are at the mercy of the collective. He writes:
And now the liturgy Of each of our days, Busy with the lives of the leaves, And ignorant of our ways.
Here, Yeats suggests that the collective is indifferent to the individual, busy with its own concerns and unaware of the struggles and desires of the people.
Finally, let us examine the language of "The People." Yeats's use of language is masterful, with each word carefully chosen to convey a particular meaning or feeling. One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of repetition. Throughout the poem, Yeats repeats certain words and phrases, such as "water" and "weasel," to reinforce the themes and symbols of the poem. He also uses repetition to create a sense of rhythm and musicality, drawing the reader in and engaging their senses.
Another notable aspect of the language of "The People" is its use of metaphor and imagery. Yeats employs a wide range of metaphors and symbols throughout the poem, using them to explore complex ideas and emotions. For example, the metaphor of the sea and the shore is used to explore the tension between the individual and the collective, while the image of the weasel is used to represent the corruption and decay that can result from the abuse of power.
Overall, "The People" is a masterpiece of poetic expression, with its beautiful language, rich imagery, and powerful themes. Yeats's exploration of the tension between the individual and the collective, and the destructive influence of power and corruption, is as relevant today as it was when the poem was first written. It is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to explore the complexities of the human experience, and to inspire us to strive for something greater.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
The People: A Poem by William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. His works are known for their lyrical beauty, deep symbolism, and profound insights into the human condition. One of his most famous poems is "The People," which was first published in 1919. In this poem, Yeats explores the relationship between the individual and the collective, and the role of the masses in shaping history.
The poem begins with a description of a crowd of people, "the people" who are "unhappy" and "fierce." They are described as "blind" and "ignorant," and their "hearts" are "hard." This opening stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a meditation on the nature of the masses and their impact on society.
Yeats goes on to describe the people as a "great beast" that is "slouching towards Bethlehem." This is a reference to the biblical story of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, and the idea that the masses are moving towards a momentous event that will change the course of history. The image of the "great beast" is a powerful one, suggesting that the people are a force to be reckoned with, and that they have the power to shape the future.
The second stanza of the poem is a reflection on the nature of the individual in relation to the collective. Yeats writes that "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." This is a profound insight into the human condition, suggesting that those who are most committed to a cause are often the least rational, while those who are more thoughtful and reflective are often hesitant to take action. This is a theme that runs throughout Yeats' work, and it speaks to the complexity of human nature.
The third stanza of the poem is a call to action. Yeats writes that "surely some revelation is at hand." This is a reference to the idea that the masses are moving towards a moment of enlightenment, a moment when they will see the world in a new way and be inspired to take action. Yeats goes on to say that "the Second Coming is at hand," which is a reference to the biblical idea of the return of Christ. This is a powerful image, suggesting that the masses are moving towards a moment of great significance, and that they have the power to shape the future.
The final stanza of the poem is a reflection on the nature of history. Yeats writes that "what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" This is a powerful image, suggesting that the masses are moving towards a moment of great significance, and that they have the power to shape the future. The image of the "rough beast" is a powerful one, suggesting that the masses are a force to be reckoned with, and that they have the power to shape the future.
In conclusion, "The People" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the relationship between the individual and the collective, and the role of the masses in shaping history. Yeats' use of powerful imagery and profound insights into the human condition make this poem a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today. Whether you are a student of literature or simply a lover of poetry, "The People" is a must-read that will leave you with a deeper understanding of the world around you.
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