'Nineteen Hundred And Nineteen' by William Butler Yeats

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Many ingenious lovely things are gone
That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,
protected from the circle of the moon
That pitches common things about. There stood
Amid the ornamental bronze and stone
An ancient image made of olive wood -
And gone are phidias' famous ivories
And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.

We too had many pretty toys when young:
A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun's rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.

All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
And a great army but a showy thing;
What matter that no cannon had been turned
Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king
Thought that unless a little powder burned
The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting
And yet it lack all glory; and perchance
The guardsmen's drowsy chargers would not prance.

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned
Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant
From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,
Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent
On master-work of intellect or hand,
No honour leave its mighty monument,
Has but one comfort left: all triumph would
But break upon his ghostly solitude.
But is there any comfort to be found?

Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
What more is there to say? That country round
None dared admit, if Such a thought were his,
Incendiary or bigot could be found
To burn that stump on the Acropolis,
Or break in bits the famous ivories
Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.


When Loie Fuller's Chinese dancers enwound
A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,
It seemed that a dragon of air
Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round
Or hurried them off on its own furious path;
So the platonic Year
Whirls out new right and wrong,
Whirls in the old instead;
All men are dancers and their tread
Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong.


Some moralist or mythological poet
Compares the solitary soul to a swan;
I am satisfied with that,
Satisfied if a troubled mirror show it,
Before that brief gleam of its life be gone,
An image of its state;
The wings half spread for flight,
The breast thrust out in pride
Whether to play, or to ride
Those winds that clamour of approaching night.

A man in his own secret meditation
Is lost amid the labyrinth that he has made
In art or politics;
Some platonist affirms that in the station
Where we should cast off body and trade
The ancient habit sticks,
And that if our works could
But vanish with our breath
That were a lucky death,
For triumph can but mar our solitude.

The swan has leaped into the desolate heaven:
That image can bring wildness, bring a rage
To end all things, to end
What my laborious life imagined, even
The half-imagined, the half-written page;
O but we dreamed to mend
Whatever mischief seemed
To afflict mankind, but now
That winds of winter blow
Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed.


We, who seven yeats ago
Talked of honour and of truth,
Shriek with pleasure if we show
The weasel's twist, the weasel's tooth.


Come let us mock at the great
That had such burdens on the mind
And toiled so hard and late
To leave some monument behind,
Nor thought of the levelling wind.

Come let us mock at the wise;
With all those calendars whereon
They fixed old aching eyes,
They never saw how seasons run,
And now but gape at the sun.

Come let us mock at the good
That fancied goodness might be gay,
And sick of solitude
Might proclaim a holiday:
Wind shrieked - and where are they?

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.


Violence upon the roads: violence of horses;
Some few have handsome riders, are garlanded
On delicate sensitive ear or tossing mane,
But wearied running round and round in their courses
All break and vanish, and evil gathers head:
Herodias' daughters have returned again,
A sudden blast of dusty wind and after
Thunder of feet, tumult of images,
Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind;
And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter
All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries,
According to the wind, for all are blind.
But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend Robert Artisson
To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought
Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen: A Dazzling Exploration of the Modern Condition

William Butler Yeats, a luminary of modernist poetry, is known for his masterful manipulation of language to capture complex themes and ideas. One of his most celebrated works, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, is a powerful exploration of the tumultuous events that shaped the modern world. This poem is a fascinating window into Yeats' world, both as an artist and as a witness to the dramatic changes of his time.

The Poem as a Reflection of Yeats' Worldview

At the heart of Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen is Yeats' understanding of history as a cyclical force, with the events of the present being shaped by the sins and follies of the past. The poem opens with a powerful image of a "foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart", evocative of the decay and corruption Yeats saw in the world around him. He goes on to describe the "long-legged fly" that "has found out / A rich man's honeyed manor-house", an allusion to the parasitic elites who exploited the working classes for their own gain.

Throughout the poem, Yeats laments the loss of traditional values and the rise of a decadent, materialistic culture. He bemoans the "fierce-browed man" who "drinks in sleep / His enemy's victory", a powerful metaphor for the way in which greed and selfishness have corrupted human relationships. Yeats' disgust at the state of the world is palpable, as he describes the "ignorant men" who "cried with an undelighted voice / 'We have come through the air'".

At the same time, Yeats' poem is also infused with a sense of hope and redemption. He describes the "winding stair" that leads to a higher understanding of the world, and the "drowsy emperor" who dreams of a better future. These images suggest that even in the darkest of times, there is always the possibility of renewal and growth.

The Poem as a Reflection of Modernist Themes

Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen is also a powerful example of modernist poetry, with its fragmented structure and complex imagery. Yeats uses a variety of literary techniques to create a sense of dislocation and fragmentation, reflecting the chaos and confusion of the modern world. The poem is full of shifting perspectives and conflicting images, such as the "foul rag-and-bone shop" juxtaposed with the "long-legged fly".

At the same time, Yeats' poem is also deeply concerned with the role of the artist in the modern world. He describes the "masterful images" that "rule our hearts", suggesting that art can serve as a powerful force for change and transformation. This idea is reflected in the way Yeats uses language to create powerful, evocative images that capture the complexities of the human experience.

The Poem as a Reflection of Historical Events

One of the most fascinating aspects of Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen is its connection to the historical events of Yeats' time. The poem was written in the aftermath of World War I, a period of profound social, political, and cultural upheaval. Yeats' poetry reflects the deep sense of disillusionment and despair that many people felt in the wake of this cataclysmic event.

At the same time, Yeats' poem is also a reflection of the Irish struggle for independence, which was unfolding at the same time. Yeats was deeply involved in this struggle, and his poetry reflects his deep commitment to Irish nationalism. The "drowsy emperor" who dreams of a better future can be seen as a metaphor for the Irish people, who were struggling to free themselves from the yoke of British colonialism.


Overall, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen is a dazzling exploration of the modern condition. It is a powerful reflection of Yeats' worldview, as well as a reflection of the historical events of his time. The poem's fragmented structure and complex imagery make it a powerful example of modernist poetry, while its themes of renewal and redemption offer a glimmer of hope in the midst of darkness and despair. For anyone interested in the complexities of modernist literature, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen is an essential read.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, is known for his profound and complex poetry that delves into the human psyche and the complexities of the world. One of his most celebrated works is the poem "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen," which was written in the aftermath of World War I and the Irish War of Independence. The poem is a reflection on the chaos and destruction of the time, and the search for meaning and order in a world that seems to have lost its way.

The poem is divided into four sections, each of which explores a different aspect of the world in 1919. The first section, "Many ingenious lovely things are gone," is a lament for the loss of beauty and innocence in the world. Yeats mourns the passing of a time when art, literature, and culture were revered and celebrated, and when people had a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. He writes:

"Many ingenious lovely things are gone That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude, protected from the circle of the moon That pitches common things about."

Yeats is lamenting the loss of the magical and the mystical in the world, which he sees as being replaced by a sense of banality and ordinariness. He mourns the passing of a time when people had a sense of wonder and awe, and when the world was full of mystery and enchantment.

The second section of the poem, "The innocent and the beautiful have no enemy but time," is a reflection on the transience of beauty and the inevitability of change. Yeats acknowledges that all things must pass, and that even the most beautiful and innocent things in the world are subject to the ravages of time. He writes:

"The innocent and the beautiful Have no enemy but time; Arise and bid me strike a match And strike another till time catch; Should the conflagration climb, Run till all the sages know."

Yeats is suggesting that even though beauty and innocence may be fleeting, they are still worth celebrating and cherishing. He is urging his readers to appreciate the beauty in the world while they can, and to not take it for granted.

The third section of the poem, "O honey-bees," is a meditation on the cyclical nature of history and the inevitability of conflict. Yeats uses the metaphor of honey-bees to represent the forces of history, which are constantly in motion and always seeking to expand and conquer. He writes:

"O honey-bees, Come build in the empty house of the stare! Weave in the wooden beams that gird the stair; Hark to the heavy murmuring of the trees, Nor cease your wandering Till you have seen it enfolded in the serenity of its wings."

Yeats is suggesting that history is like a swarm of bees, constantly moving and changing, and that conflict is an inevitable part of this process. He is also suggesting that there is a sense of inevitability to history, and that it is impossible to escape the forces that drive it.

The final section of the poem, "Out of Ireland have we come," is a reflection on Yeats' own identity as an Irishman and his place in the world. He writes:

"Out of Ireland have we come. Great hatred, little room, Maimed us at the start. I carry from my mother's womb A fanatic heart."

Yeats is acknowledging the struggles and hardships that he and his fellow Irishmen have faced, and the sense of identity and purpose that has emerged from these struggles. He is also suggesting that his own identity is shaped by his experiences as an Irishman, and that this identity is something that he carries with him wherever he goes.

In conclusion, "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen" is a powerful and complex poem that explores the chaos and destruction of the world in the aftermath of World War I and the Irish War of Independence. Yeats uses a variety of metaphors and images to convey his message, and his language is both beautiful and haunting. The poem is a reflection on the transience of beauty, the inevitability of conflict, and the search for meaning and identity in a world that seems to have lost its way. It is a masterpiece of modern poetry, and a testament to Yeats' skill as a poet and his deep understanding of the human condition.

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