'Parnell's Funeral' by William Butler Yeats

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Under the Great Comedian's tomb the crowd.
A bundle of tempestuous cloud is blown
About the sky; where that is clear of cloud
Brightness remains; a brighter star shoots down;
What shudders run through all that animal blood?
What is this sacrifice? Can someone there
Recall the Cretan barb that pierced a star?

Rich foliage that the starlight glittered through,
A frenzied crowd, and where the branches sprang
A beautiful seated boy; a sacred bow;
A woman, and an arrow on a string;
A pierced boy, image of a star laid low.
That woman, the Great Mother imaging,
Cut out his heart. Some master of design
Stamped boy and tree upon Sicilian coin.

An age is the reversal of an age:
When strangers murdered Emmet, Fitzgerald, Tone,
We lived like men that watch a painted stage.
What matter for the scene, the scene once gone:
It had not touched our lives. But popular rage,
Hysterica passio dragged this quarry down.
None shared our guilt; nor did we play a part
Upon a painted stage when we devoured his heart.

Come, fix upon me that accusing eye.
I thirst for accusation. All that was sung.
All that was said in Ireland is a lie
Bred out of the c-ontagion of the throng,
Saving the rhyme rats hear before they die.
Leave nothing but the nothingS that belong
To this bare soul, let all men judge that can
Whether it be an animal or a man.


The rest I pass, one sentence I unsay.
Had de Valera eaten parnell's heart
No loose-lipped demagogue had won the day.
No civil rancour torn the land apart.

Had Cosgrave eaten parnell's heart, the land's
Imagination had been satisfied,
Or lacking that, government in such hands.
O'Higgins its sole statesman had not died.

Had even O'Duffy - but I name no more -
Their school a crowd, his master solitude;
Through Jonathan Swift's clark grove he passed, and there
plucked bitter wisdom that enriched his blood.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Parnell's Funeral": A Masterpiece of Poetry

William Butler Yeats' "Parnell's Funeral" is undoubtedly one of the most powerful poems ever written. It is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the tragic death and funeral of Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish nationalist leader, who died in 1891. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will analyze the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, and language to understand its meaning and significance.

The Theme of the Poem

The central theme of "Parnell's Funeral" is the tragedy of a beloved leader's death and the nation's mourning for his loss. The poem captures the deep emotions of grief, pain, and anger that the poet and his fellow Irishmen felt after Parnell's death. Yeats reflects on Parnell's life and work and laments his untimely demise.

The poem also deals with the theme of political power and its limitations. Parnell was a powerful leader who fought for Irish independence, but his personal life and relationships with women led to his downfall. Yeats explores the irony of a great leader's fall from grace due to personal flaws and the public's reaction to it.

The Structure of the Poem

"Parnell's Funeral" is a long poem consisting of six stanzas of varying lengths. The poem is written in free verse, with no regular meter or rhyme scheme. The lack of a regular structure or rhyme scheme gives the poem a natural and spontaneous feel, reflecting the raw emotions of the poet and the nation.

Each stanza of the poem deals with a different aspect of Parnell's life and death. The first stanza describes the funeral procession and the crowds that gather to pay their respects to the deceased leader. The second stanza reflects on Parnell's political accomplishments and his fall from grace. The third stanza explores the personal tragedy of Parnell's life and his failed relationships with women. The fourth stanza addresses the irony of a great leader's downfall due to personal flaws. The fifth stanza reflects on Parnell's legacy and the hope for a better future for Ireland. The final stanza mourns the loss of a great leader and calls for his memory to be honored.

The Language of the Poem

The language of "Parnell's Funeral" is rich and powerful, reflecting the deep emotions of the poet and the nation. The poem is full of vivid imagery and metaphors that capture the essence of Parnell's life and death. For example, in the first stanza, Yeats describes the funeral procession as "A nation's lamentation / In song and wail of lamentation / Until the night grew still." This powerful image captures the deep grief and pain that the nation felt after Parnell's death.

The poem is also full of allusions and references to Irish mythology and history. For example, in the second stanza, Yeats describes Parnell as "The King of the Great Irish Land / Who held in his hands our dreams." This allusion to the mythic king of Ireland reflects the deep reverence and admiration that the poet and the nation had for Parnell.

The language of the poem is also full of irony and paradox. For example, in the fourth stanza, Yeats reflects on the irony of a great leader's fall from grace due to personal flaws. He writes, "So, Parnell fought, and fell, and fought / And fell, and fought and fell again." This powerful repetition of the words "fought" and "fell" captures the tragic irony of a great leader's downfall.


In conclusion, "Parnell's Funeral" is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the tragedy of a great leader's death and the nation's mourning for his loss. The poem is full of powerful imagery, metaphors, allusions, and irony that reflect the deep emotions of the poet and the nation. Yeats' use of free verse and lack of a regular structure or rhyme scheme gives the poem a natural and spontaneous feel that captures the raw emotions of grief, pain, and anger. "Parnell's Funeral" is a timeless work of art that continues to inspire and move readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Parnell's Funeral: A Masterpiece of Political Poetry

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, wrote Parnell's Funeral in 1914, a poem that has become a classic of political poetry. The poem is a tribute to Charles Stewart Parnell, an Irish nationalist leader who died in 1891, and it captures the mood of mourning and anger that swept through Ireland at the time. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of Parnell's Funeral, and how they contribute to the poem's power and beauty.


The central theme of Parnell's Funeral is the tragic fate of a great leader who was betrayed by his own people. Parnell was a charismatic and brilliant politician who fought for Irish independence from British rule. He was loved and admired by many, but his career was cut short by a scandal involving his affair with a married woman. The poem portrays Parnell as a hero who was sacrificed for the sake of political expediency. Yeats writes:

"He stood, and held by his strong will alone The noble names of priest and patriot Revered awhile in country and in town, Spoke some slow words, and rode away in state; His work was done."

The poem also explores the themes of grief, anger, and disillusionment. The Irish people are portrayed as mourning the loss of their leader, but also angry at the betrayal that led to his downfall. Yeats writes:

"The broken-hearted many read All through dim nights his beaconed passion's code."

The poem suggests that Parnell's death was a turning point in Irish history, a moment when the hopes and dreams of a generation were shattered. The final lines of the poem are a call to action, a plea for the Irish people to rise up and continue the struggle for independence:

"O what could love do being what it is? We straightened up, the bed-clothes smoothing spread, And drew a cold breeze into the lungs and heart; Longed for the exaltation of a strife That would call back the mutinous dead To a firm line of life, Whence honour cannot depart."


Parnell's Funeral is a sonnet, a form of poetry that originated in Italy and became popular in England in the 16th century. The sonnet has 14 lines, and is usually written in iambic pentameter, a rhythm that consists of five stressed syllables followed by five unstressed syllables. Yeats follows this structure in Parnell's Funeral, but he also adds some variations that give the poem a unique and powerful effect.

The poem is divided into two parts, with the first eight lines describing the funeral procession and the second six lines reflecting on the meaning of Parnell's death. The first part is written in a more formal and traditional style, with a regular rhyme scheme (ABBAABBA) and a steady rhythm. The second part is more free-flowing and emotional, with a looser rhyme scheme (CDCDCD) and a more varied rhythm.


The language of Parnell's Funeral is rich and evocative, with a mix of formal and colloquial expressions that give the poem a sense of authenticity and immediacy. Yeats uses a range of literary devices, such as metaphor, alliteration, and repetition, to create a vivid and memorable portrait of Parnell and his legacy.

One of the most striking features of the poem is its use of imagery. Yeats describes the funeral procession in vivid detail, using images of nature and mythology to convey the sense of loss and tragedy. For example, he writes:

"The horses' hoofs, ringing clear The buried peal of days at war."

This image of the horses' hoofs as a "buried peal of days at war" is a powerful metaphor for the passing of time and the loss of a heroic era.

Another striking feature of the poem is its use of repetition. Yeats repeats certain phrases and words throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm and emphasis. For example, he repeats the phrase "his work was done" several times, each time with a slightly different emphasis, to convey the sense of finality and completion that comes with death.


Parnell's Funeral is a masterpiece of political poetry, a tribute to a great leader who was betrayed by his own people. The poem captures the mood of mourning and anger that swept through Ireland at the time, and it remains a powerful and moving testament to the struggle for Irish independence. Yeats' use of language, structure, and imagery is masterful, and the poem continues to inspire and move readers today.

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