'On Those That Hated The 'Playboy Of The Western World,' 1907' by William Butler Yeats
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Once, when midnight smote the air,
Eunuchs ran through Hell and met
On every crowded street to stare
Upon great Juan riding by:
Even like these to rail and sweat
Staring upon his sinewy thigh.
Editor 1 Interpretation
On Those That Hated The 'Playboy Of The Western World,' 1907
As a literary critic, I've come across numerous poems that stir up emotions, but William Butler Yeats' "On Those That Hated The 'Playboy Of The Western World,' 1907" stands out. The poem is a masterful work of art that addresses the controversy surrounding the premier of J.M. Synge's play, "The Playboy of the Western World" in Dublin, Ireland, in 1907. Yeats was an ardent supporter of the play and wrote this poem as a response to the critics who vehemently opposed it.
To fully grasp the meaning of this poem, it is essential to understand the context in which it was written. J.M. Synge's play, "The Playboy of the Western World" caused a stir in Ireland due to its controversial subject matter. The play revolves around a young man named Christy Mahon, who murders his father and becomes a hero in his village. The play's themes of violence, patricide, and religious blasphemy were deemed offensive by some, particularly those in the Catholic Church.
Yeats' poem is a powerful response to the critics who disliked Synge's play. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with a distinct style and tone.
The first stanza begins with the speaker addressing the critics who opposed the play, calling them "the fools, the fools, the fools." The repetition of "the fools" emphasizes Yeats' disdain for those who cannot appreciate the play's brilliance. He goes on to describe how the play "roused from the centuries of sleep" the "soul of Sean-nós," a traditional style of singing in Ireland. This imagery suggests that the play awakened something in the audience and stirred up their emotions. Yeats also mentions the "great explosion" that occurred when the play was first performed, which further emphasizes the impact of the play.
The second stanza takes a more somber tone. Yeats describes how the critics attacked Synge and the play, calling it "a dirty lie," "blasphemy," and "a public scandal." This harsh language shows the critics' disdain for the play and their inability to appreciate its artistry. Yeats then goes on to describe how the play reflects the reality of life in Ireland, particularly the violence and poverty that were prevalent at the time. He also mentions how the play reflects the Irish people's struggle for independence and their desire to break free from the constraints of British rule.
The third stanza takes a more optimistic tone. Yeats describes how the play will live on and continue to inspire future generations of Irish writers and artists. He also suggests that those who opposed the play will soon be forgotten, while the play will remain a timeless piece of art. This final stanza is a testament to Synge's play and its lasting impact on Irish culture.
Yeats' poem is a powerful defense of Synge's play, which was widely criticized in Ireland at the time of its premiere. The poem is an ode to the power of art and its ability to awaken the soul and stir up emotions. Yeats' language is passionate and powerful, and he uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of the impact of Synge's play on the audience.
The poem can also be interpreted as a reflection of Irish nationalism and the struggle for independence from British rule. The play's themes of violence, patricide, and religious blasphemy can be seen as a metaphor for the Irish people's desire to break free from the constraints of British rule and establish their own identity.
Overall, Yeats' "On Those That Hated The 'Playboy Of The Western World,' 1907" is a powerful work of art that celebrates the power of art to awaken the soul and stir up emotions. It is a testament to the enduring influence of Synge's play and its impact on Irish culture.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
On Those That Hated The 'Playboy Of The Western World,' 1907: A Masterpiece of Satire and Irony
William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, wrote a masterpiece of satire and irony in his poem "On Those That Hated The 'Playboy Of The Western World,' 1907." The poem was written in response to the controversy surrounding the play "The Playboy of the Western World" by Irish playwright John Millington Synge, which was first performed in Dublin in 1907. The play was met with outrage and protests from Irish nationalists who saw it as an insult to Irish culture and morality. Yeats, who was a friend and supporter of Synge, wrote this poem to defend the play and to criticize its detractors.
The poem is a scathing critique of the narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy of those who opposed the play. Yeats uses irony and satire to expose the absurdity of their arguments and to highlight the contradictions in their beliefs. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the controversy.
In the first stanza, Yeats addresses the critics who accused Synge of portraying Irish people as barbaric and uncivilized. He mocks their ignorance and their lack of understanding of the play's themes and characters. He writes:
"Once, when midnight smote the air, Eunuchs ran through Hell and met On every crowded street to stare Upon great Juan riding by: Even like these to rail and sweat Staring upon his sinewy thigh."
The image of eunuchs running through Hell to stare at Juan, the protagonist of the play, is a metaphor for the critics' obsession with the play's supposed immorality. Yeats suggests that their outrage is misplaced and that they are missing the point of the play. He also uses the image of Juan's "sinewy thigh" to mock the critics' prudishness and their fear of sexuality.
In the second stanza, Yeats turns his attention to the Irish nationalists who saw the play as an insult to Irish culture and morality. He exposes their hypocrisy and their double standards by pointing out that they themselves are guilty of the same sins that they condemn in the play. 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."
The image of the weasel, a symbol of deceit and treachery, is used to describe the nationalists' hypocrisy. Yeats suggests that they are more interested in scoring political points than in defending Irish culture and morality. He also implies that their outrage is selective and that they are willing to overlook the same sins in their own ranks.
In the third and final stanza, Yeats addresses the broader cultural context in which the controversy took place. He suggests that the play was a reflection of the changing values and attitudes of Irish society at the time. He writes:
"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."
The image of the "levelling wind" is a metaphor for the forces of change that were sweeping through Irish society at the time. Yeats suggests that the critics of the play were clinging to outdated values and attitudes and that they were unable to see the bigger picture. He also implies that the play was a sign of the times and that it was a reflection of the changing cultural landscape of Ireland.
In conclusion, "On Those That Hated The 'Playboy Of The Western World,' 1907" is a masterpiece of satire and irony that exposes the narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy of those who opposed the play. Yeats uses his poetic skills to mock their ignorance, their prudishness, and their hypocrisy, and to highlight the contradictions in their beliefs. The poem is a testament to Yeats' genius as a poet and to his commitment to defending artistic freedom and cultural diversity. It is a timeless work of art that continues to inspire and challenge readers to this day.
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