'Man And The Echo' by William Butler Yeats

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Man. In a cleft that's christened Alt
Under broken stone I halt
At the bottom of a pit
That broad noon has never lit,
And shout a secret to the stone.
All that I have said and done,
Now that I am old and ill,
Turns into a question till
I lie awake night after night
And never get the answers right.
Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot?
Did words of mine put too great strain
On that woman's reeling brain?
Could my spoken words have checked
That whereby a house lay wrecked?
And all seems evil until I
Sleepless would lie down and die.

Echo. Lie down and die.

Man. That were to shirk
The spiritual intellect's great work,
And shirk it in vain. There is no release
In a bodkin or disease,
Nor can there be work so great
As that which cleans man's dirty slate.
While man can still his body keep
Wine or love drug him to sleep,
Waking he thanks the Lord that he
Has body and its stupidity,
But body gone he sleeps no more,
And till his intellect grows sure
That all's arranged in one clear view,
pursues the thoughts that I pursue,
Then stands in judgment on his soul,
And, all work done, dismisses all
Out of intellect and sight
And sinks at last into the night.

Echo. Into the night.

Man. O Rocky Voice,
Shall we in that great night rejoice?
What do we know but that we face
One another in this place?
But hush, for I have lost the theme,
Its joy or night-seem but a dream;
Up there some hawk or owl has struck,
Dropping out of sky or rock,
A stricken rabbit is crying out,
And its cry distracts my thought.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Man and The Echo: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet and dramatist, is known for his unique style of writing that combines Irish mythology, symbolism, and spirituality. His poem "Man and The Echo" is no exception. The poem, written in 1938, explores the theme of human consciousness and the inner conflict of a man with his own thoughts and desires. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we shall analyze the poem's structure, language, imagery, and meaning to understand its significance in the world of literature.


The poem is made up of four stanzas, each containing four lines. This structure is known as a quatrain. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, meaning that the first and third lines rhyme, and the second and fourth lines rhyme. The consistent structure of the poem gives it a musical quality that enhances its lyrical nature.


Yeats uses simple and direct language in the poem, making it accessible to readers of all levels. However, the language is not devoid of poetic elements. For example, the repetition of the phrase "Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?" in the first and third stanzas creates a hypnotic effect that draws the reader in. The use of alliteration, as in the line "As old as man, as plain as packthread," also adds to the poem's musicality.


The poem is full of powerful and evocative imagery that adds depth and meaning to the words. The echo, for example, is used as a metaphor for the voice within oneself that one can never escape. Yeats describes the echo as "a mirror/That he has set before him." This mirror reflects the speaker's thoughts and desires, forcing him to confront them. The image of the mirror also suggests that one's inner voice is a reflection of one's true self.

Another striking image in the poem is that of the "fruitful hill." The hill is described as "full of thorns and briars," suggesting that it is not an easy path to climb. However, once one reaches the top, one will be rewarded with the fruit of knowledge. This image is reminiscent of the biblical story of Adam and Eve, who ate the fruit of knowledge and gained understanding but also lost their innocence.


The poem's meaning can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on the reader's perspective. At its core, however, the poem is about the struggle for self-awareness and the conflict between one's desires and one's conscience. The echo represents the voice within oneself that is constantly questioning one's actions and motives. The speaker is frustrated with this inner voice, as it forces him to confront the less desirable aspects of his personality.

The question "Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?" is a reference to Yeats's own involvement in the Irish nationalist movement. The speaker is questioning whether his own actions played a role in the violent conflict between the Irish and the English. This line can also be interpreted as a broader commentary on the role of art in society. Art has the power to influence people's thoughts and actions, for better or for worse.

The image of the "fruitful hill" suggests that the path to self-awareness is not an easy one. It requires one to confront uncomfortable truths about oneself and to accept responsibility for one's actions. However, the reward for this journey is knowledge and understanding, which can lead to personal growth and enlightenment.


In conclusion, "Man and The Echo" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the theme of human consciousness and the struggle for self-awareness. Through its structure, language, imagery, and meaning, the poem offers a commentary on the role of art, the conflict between desire and conscience, and the rewards and challenges of personal growth. Yeats's use of simple language and evocative imagery makes the poem accessible to readers of all levels, while its deeper meaning offers a rich and rewarding experience for those who take the time to explore it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Man And The Echo: A Poem of Self-Reflection and Inner Turmoil

William Butler Yeats, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, wrote a plethora of poems that explored the complexities of the human psyche. Among his most famous works is "Man And The Echo," a poem that delves into the themes of self-reflection, inner turmoil, and the search for meaning in life. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its various layers of meaning and the techniques used by Yeats to convey his message.

The poem begins with a description of a man walking in the woods, accompanied by his echo. The echo, however, is not a mere reflection of his voice, but a separate entity with a mind of its own. It speaks to the man, questioning his actions and beliefs, and challenging him to confront his inner demons. The echo represents the man's subconscious, the part of him that he tries to suppress or ignore, but that ultimately shapes his thoughts and actions.

The first stanza sets the tone for the poem, with the man and the echo engaging in a dialogue that reveals the man's inner turmoil. The echo asks the man why he is so restless and unhappy, and the man responds by saying that he is searching for something that he cannot find. He is looking for a sense of purpose or meaning in life, but he feels lost and confused. The echo then asks him if he has looked within himself for answers, and the man admits that he has not. He has been too busy chasing after external goals and desires, without taking the time to reflect on his own thoughts and feelings.

The second stanza continues the dialogue, with the echo questioning the man's beliefs and values. It asks him if he truly believes in the things that he claims to believe, or if he is simply following the crowd. The man responds by saying that he is not sure, that he has doubts and uncertainties. He is afraid to confront these doubts, however, because he fears that they will lead him to a dark and lonely place. The echo challenges him to face his fears and doubts, to embrace the darkness and find the light within it.

The third stanza takes a darker turn, with the echo revealing the man's deepest fears and insecurities. It tells him that he is afraid of death, of the unknown, of the emptiness that lies beyond life. The man tries to deny these fears, but the echo persists, reminding him that they are a part of him, whether he likes it or not. The echo then asks him if he is willing to face these fears, to confront the darkness within himself and find the light that lies beyond it.

The fourth and final stanza brings the poem to a close, with the man and the echo reaching a moment of clarity and understanding. The man realizes that he has been running away from himself, that he has been afraid to confront his inner demons. He acknowledges that he has doubts and fears, but he also realizes that these doubts and fears are a part of him, and that he cannot escape them. He decides to embrace them, to face them head-on, and to find the light that lies beyond the darkness.

The poem is a powerful exploration of the human psyche, and the techniques used by Yeats to convey his message are both subtle and effective. One of the most striking features of the poem is the use of repetition, particularly in the first and third stanzas. The repetition of the phrase "I hear it in the deep heart's core" creates a sense of urgency and intensity, emphasizing the importance of the man's inner voice and the need to listen to it. The repetition of the word "echo" also serves to reinforce the idea that the echo is not a mere reflection of the man's voice, but a separate entity with its own thoughts and feelings.

Another technique used by Yeats is the use of imagery, particularly in the third stanza. The image of the "lonely sea" and the "sky where none, not even a lonely star" can be interpreted as a metaphor for the emptiness and fear that the man feels. The image of the "dark wood" also serves to reinforce the idea that the man is lost and confused, and that he needs to find his way out of the darkness.

In conclusion, "Man And The Echo" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the complexities of the human psyche. Through the use of repetition, imagery, and dialogue, Yeats conveys a message of self-reflection, inner turmoil, and the search for meaning in life. The poem challenges us to confront our own doubts and fears, to embrace the darkness within ourselves, and to find the light that lies beyond it. It is a timeless work of art that continues to resonate with readers today, and it is a testament to Yeats' skill as a poet and his understanding of the human condition.

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