'The Leaders Of The Crowd' by William Butler Yeats

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They must to keep their certainty accuse
All that are different of a base intent;
Pull down established honour; hawk for news
Whatever their loose fantasy invent
And murmur it with bated breath, as though
The abounding gutter had been Helicon
Or calumny a song. How can they know
Truth flourishes where the student's lamp has shone,
And there alone, that have no Solitude?
So the crowd come they care not what may come.
They have loud music, hope every day renewed
And heartier loves; that lamp is from the tomb.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Leaders Of The Crowd: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation


The Leaders of the Crowd is a poem by the renowned Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. The poem was published in 1914 and is part of Yeats' collection "Responsibilities". The poem is a social commentary on the role of leaders and the masses in society. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the poem's themes, imagery, symbolism, and style.


The Leaders of the Crowd is a poem that explores the theme of the relationship between leaders and the masses. The poem is a critique of leaders who use the masses for their own benefit. Yeats portrays the leaders as manipulative and insincere, and the masses as gullible and easily swayed.

Another theme that emerges is the idea of heroism. Yeats presents the idea that true heroes are not those who lead the masses, but those who stand up against the crowd and fight for what is right. This is exemplified in the lines "But he that stands upon a rock / In a precarious popularity / Is poised between sense and star" – the idea being that one who stands alone, but resolute in their beliefs, is more heroic than one who leads a mob.


Yeats uses vivid imagery to convey his message in The Leaders of the Crowd. The poem is filled with images of darkness, chaos, and violence. The first stanza sets the tone with the line "The old man had a thousand eyes / The young man but a sword." This imagery creates a sense of unease and foreboding.

The second stanza is filled with images of chaos and violence: "The mob is man voluntarily and / Inevitably ignorant. / The bestial representation of himself." This imagery paints a picture of a mob that is out of control and dangerous.

In the third stanza, Yeats uses the image of a rock to represent the hero. This image creates a sense of stability and strength.


The Leaders of the Crowd is rich in symbolism. One of the most prominent symbols in the poem is the image of the "old man". The old man is a symbol of tradition and authority. He is the embodiment of the past, and the young man with the sword represents the future.

The sword itself is also a symbol. It represents power and strength, but also violence and chaos. The sword is a double-edged symbol that can be used for good or evil.

The mob is another important symbol in the poem. It represents the masses, who are easily swayed and manipulated by their leaders. The mob is a symbol of chaos and violence, and represents the worst aspects of human nature.


Yeats' style in The Leaders of the Crowd is characterized by his use of vivid imagery, symbolism, and repetition. The poem is written in free verse, which allows Yeats to experiment with line length and structure.

The use of repetition is particularly effective in the poem. The phrase "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity" is repeated twice, driving home the idea that those who are truly heroic are often alone in their beliefs.


The Leaders of the Crowd is a powerful poem that explores the relationship between leaders and the masses. Yeats uses vivid imagery, symbolism, and repetition to convey his message. The poem is a critique of leaders who use the masses for their own benefit, and an exaltation of those who stand alone in their beliefs.

Overall, The Leaders of the Crowd is a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today. Yeats' insights into human nature and the role of leaders in society are as relevant now as they were over a century ago.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Leaders of the Crowd: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, the renowned Irish poet, is known for his exceptional ability to capture the essence of human emotions and experiences in his works. One of his most celebrated poems, "The Leaders of the Crowd," is a masterpiece that explores the themes of power, leadership, and the human desire for control.

The poem begins with a vivid description of a crowd, "a mob that nobody leads." The speaker observes the crowd from a distance, noting their chaotic movements and lack of direction. The crowd is aimless, wandering without purpose or intention. However, the speaker soon notices a group of individuals who stand out from the rest. These are "the leaders of the crowd," the ones who have taken charge and are directing the mob.

Yeats describes these leaders as "men who are hated and feared." They are not loved or respected by the crowd, but they have managed to gain control through their forceful personalities and manipulative tactics. The speaker notes that these leaders "have made their bed / In the mire of a market-place." They have chosen to operate in the lowest, most base environment, where they can easily manipulate the masses.

The poem then takes a darker turn, as the speaker describes the leaders' methods of control. They use fear and violence to maintain their power, "with the chin upon the hand / Pondering when and where and how / They may crush the rising thought." The leaders are not interested in promoting free thinking or individuality; they want to crush any dissenting voices and maintain their hold on the crowd.

Yeats then introduces a new character, a "man who is not a dupe." This man is different from the rest of the crowd; he is not easily swayed by the leaders' tactics. The speaker notes that this man "looks beneath the mulberry-trees," suggesting that he is more interested in the natural world and the beauty of life than in the chaos of the crowd.

The man is also described as having a "quiet voice," which contrasts with the loud, forceful voices of the leaders. He is not interested in shouting or dominating others; he simply wants to live his life in peace and harmony. However, the leaders see this man as a threat to their power, and they begin to plot against him.

The poem ends with a warning to the man, "Beware of the man who rises to throw / The stones at the birds." The leaders are preparing to attack the man, and he must be careful not to fall victim to their violence.

"The Leaders of the Crowd" is a powerful poem that explores the themes of power, leadership, and control. Yeats uses vivid imagery and strong language to convey the chaos and violence of the crowd, as well as the manipulative tactics of the leaders. The poem also highlights the importance of individuality and free thinking, as represented by the man who is not a dupe.

Overall, "The Leaders of the Crowd" is a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today. Yeats' ability to capture the complexities of human nature and the struggle for power and control is truly remarkable, and this poem is a testament to his genius.

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