'In Memory Of Major Robert Gregory' by William Butler Yeats

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Now that we're almost settled in our house
I'll name the friends that cannot sup with us
Beside a fire of turf in th' ancient tower,
And having talked to some late hour
Climb up the narrow winding stair to bed:
Discoverers of forgotten truth
Or mere companions of my youth,
All, all are in my thoughts to-night being dead.


Always we'd have the new friend meet the old
And we are hurt if either friend seem cold,
And there is salt to lengthen out the smart
In the affections of our heart,
And quatrels are blown up upon that head;
But not a friend that I would bring
This night can set us quarrelling,
For all that come into my mind are dead.


Lionel Johnson comes the first to mind,
That loved his learning better than mankind.
Though courteous to the worst; much falling he
Brooded upon sanctity
Till all his Greek and Latin learning seemed
A long blast upon the horn that brought
A little nearer to his thought
A measureless consummation that he dreamed.


And that enquiring man John Synge comes next,
That dying chose the living world for text
And never could have rested in the tomb
But that, long travelling, he had come
Towards nightfall upon certain set apart
In a most desolate stony place,
Towards nightfall upon a race
passionate and simple like his heart.


And then I think of old George Pollexfen,
In muscular youth well known to Mayo men
For horsemanship at meets or at racecourses,
That could have shown how pure-bred horses
And solid men, for all their passion, live
But as the outrageous stars incline
By opposition, square and trine;
Having grown sluggish and contemplative.


They were my close companions many a year.
A portion of my mind and life, as it were,
And now their breathless faces seem to look
Out of some old picture-book;
I am accustomed to their lack of breath,
But not that my dear friend's dear son,
Our Sidney and our perfect man,
Could share in that discourtesy of death


For all things the delighted eye now sees
Were loved by him: the old storm-broken trees
That cast their shadows upon road and bridge;
The tower set on the stream's edge;
The ford where drinking cattle make a stir
Nightly, and startled by that sound
The water-hen must change her ground;
He might have been your heartiest welcomer.


When with the Galway foxhounds he would ride
From Castle Taylor to the Roxborough side
Or Esserkelly plain, few kept his pace;
At Mooneen he had leaped a place
So perilous that half the astonished meet
Had shut their eyes; and where was it
He rode a race without a bit?
And yet his mind outran the horses' feet.


We dreamed that a great painter had been born
To cold Clare rock and Galway rock and thorn,
To that stern colour and that delicate line
That are our secret discipline
Wherein the gazing heart doubles her might.
Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
And yet he had the intensity
To have published all to be a world's delight.


What other could so well have counselled us
In all lovely intricacies of a house
As he that practised or that understood
All work in metal or in wood,
In moulded plaster or in carven stone?
Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
And all he did done perfectly
As though he had but that one trade alone.


Some burn dam faggots, others may consume
The entire combustible world in one small room
As though dried straw, and if we turn about
The bare chimney is gone black out
Because the work had finished in that flare.
Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
As 'twere all life's epitome.
What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?


I had thought, seeing how bitter is that wind
That shakes the shutter, to have brought to mind
All those that manhood tried, or childhood loved
Or boyish intellect approved,
With some appropriatc commentaty on each;
Until imagination brought
A fitter welcome; but a thought
Of that late death took all my heart for speech.

Editor 1 Interpretation

In Memory of Major Robert Gregory by William Butler Yeats: A Symbolic Tribute

"Oh noble heart who died to keep A lasting heritage awake, Bid Erin's daughters and her sons In sleepless vigils for your sake Forget their interests, live or die As some high sacrifice may require, And learn one lesson from your fate, How to forget individual desire"

When it comes to elegies, few can rival the raw emotion and heartfelt tribute in William Butler Yeats' "In Memory of Major Robert Gregory." This poem is a tribute to the son of Yeats' close friends, Lady and Lord Gregory, who died in combat during World War I. But it is more than just a tribute to a fallen soldier - it is a symbolic representation of Ireland's struggle for independence and the sacrifice that comes with fighting for a greater cause.

A Powerful Symbolic Image

The poem is structured in six stanzas, each with six lines. The number six holds great significance in Irish mythology and symbolism - it represents balance, harmony, and the unity of opposites. In this poem, the number six is used to create a sense of symmetry and balance, reflecting the idea that Robert Gregory's sacrifice was necessary for Ireland to achieve its own balance and harmony.

The poem begins with a powerful image: "He shall not hear the bittern cry / In the wild sky where he is lain." The "bittern cry" is a reference to the bird that inhabits the marshlands of Ireland. It is a mournful sound that symbolizes the loss and grief that comes with death. By saying that "he shall not hear" it, Yeats is acknowledging the fact that Robert Gregory is gone and can no longer hear the sounds of the world.

The image of the "wild sky" is also significant. It suggests a vast, open expanse - a world without boundaries or limits. Robert Gregory's death has opened up a new world, a world of infinite possibility and potential. But it is also a world of danger and uncertainty.

The Use of Imagery

Throughout the poem, Yeats employs powerful imagery to convey his message. The image of the "wild sky" is followed by the image of "northern light," which symbolizes the hope and promise of a new day. The "northern light" is a reference to the Aurora Borealis, a natural phenomenon that illuminates the northern skies with a vivid display of light and color.

Yeats contrasts this image with the "dying of the light," a reference to Dylan Thomas' poem "Do not go gentle into that good night." The "dying of the light" represents the end of life and the inevitability of death. It is a reminder that Robert Gregory's sacrifice was not in vain, but it also serves as a warning that death is always lurking in the shadows.

In the third stanza, Yeats uses the image of a "pilgrim shadow" to represent Robert Gregory's spirit. The shadow is a metaphor for the intangible essence of a person, their soul or spirit. By using the image of a pilgrim, Yeats is suggesting that Robert Gregory's spirit is on a journey, a quest for something greater than himself.

The Symbolic Meaning of the Horse

Perhaps the most powerful image in the poem is the horse. The horse is a symbol of strength, power, and freedom. In Irish mythology, the horse is associated with the goddess Epona, who is the protector of horses and also a symbol of sovereignty.

The horse in the poem represents Robert Gregory's spirit, which is free and unbounded by the constraints of the physical world. The horse is also a symbol of Ireland's struggle for independence. It is a nod to the rebels who fought for Ireland's freedom, and the sacrifices they made along the way.

In the fifth stanza, Yeats writes, "Mount that horse, lift bridle-rein, / And comb your hair and straighten your gown." This is a call to action, a reminder that Ireland must continue the fight for independence, even in the face of adversity. The image of combing one's hair and straightening one's gown suggests that Ireland must look to its best self, must act with dignity and honor, even in the darkest of times.

A Tribute to Sacrifice

"In Memory of Major Robert Gregory" is ultimately a tribute to sacrifice. Robert Gregory gave his life for a cause he believed in, and Yeats is using this poem to honor that sacrifice. But it is more than just a tribute to one man - it is a tribute to all those who have sacrificed for Ireland's independence.

The poem is also a call to action, a reminder that the fight for independence is ongoing. Yeats is urging Ireland to continue the struggle, to never give up hope, and to never forget the sacrifices that have been made along the way.


"In Memory of Major Robert Gregory" is a powerful and poignant tribute to a fallen soldier. But it is more than just a tribute - it is a symbolic representation of Ireland's struggle for independence and the sacrifices that have been made along the way. Yeats uses powerful imagery and symbolism to convey his message, creating a poem that is both beautiful and haunting. It is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of human emotion and experience, and to honor those who have given everything for a greater cause.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

In Memory Of Major Robert Gregory: A Poem of Loss and Remembrance

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, known for his evocative and mystical works that explore themes of love, death, and the human condition. Among his many masterpieces, one stands out as a poignant tribute to a fallen hero of the First World War: In Memory Of Major Robert Gregory.

Written in 1919, just a year after the end of the war, the poem is a lament for the death of Yeats' friend and fellow artist, Major Robert Gregory, who was killed in action while serving with the Royal Flying Corps in Italy. The poem is a powerful expression of grief and admiration, as Yeats reflects on the life and sacrifice of his friend and the impact of his death on those who knew him.

The poem is structured in six stanzas, each consisting of four lines, with a simple and repetitive rhyme scheme (ABAB). This simplicity of form belies the depth of emotion and meaning that Yeats imbues into each line, as he paints a vivid portrait of Major Gregory and the world he inhabited.

The first stanza sets the tone for the poem, as Yeats describes the "pale, pale face" of his friend, lying "on a pillow low" in death. The image is stark and haunting, evoking the sense of loss and finality that death brings. Yeats then moves on to describe the circumstances of Major Gregory's death, noting that he "fell from his high estate" while fighting for his country. This phrase is significant, as it suggests that Major Gregory's death was not just a personal tragedy, but a sacrifice for a greater cause.

In the second stanza, Yeats reflects on the impact of Major Gregory's death on those who knew him, noting that "all that he might have been" is now lost forever. This sense of unrealized potential is a common theme in war poetry, as it highlights the waste and futility of conflict. Yeats also notes that Major Gregory was "loved by many" and had a "noble heart," emphasizing his virtues and the depth of his character.

The third stanza is perhaps the most powerful in the poem, as Yeats imagines Major Gregory's spirit returning to Ireland, where he was born and raised. The image of the "lonely house" and the "empty chair" are poignant reminders of the absence and loss that death brings. Yeats also notes that Major Gregory's "soul has grown deep like the rivers," suggesting that his experiences in war have transformed him and given him a deeper understanding of life and death.

In the fourth stanza, Yeats reflects on the nature of heroism and sacrifice, noting that Major Gregory's death was not in vain, but was part of a larger struggle for freedom and justice. He notes that "the years to come seemed waste of breath" without such sacrifices, and that Major Gregory's death was a reminder of the "eternal beauty" of those who give their lives for a cause. This is a powerful statement of Yeats' belief in the importance of sacrifice and the nobility of those who make it.

The fifth stanza is a more personal reflection on Yeats' relationship with Major Gregory, as he notes that they shared a love of art and beauty. He describes Major Gregory as a "lover of horses" and a "rider of the hills," emphasizing his connection to nature and the land. Yeats also notes that Major Gregory was a talented artist, and that his death has robbed the world of his creative vision.

The final stanza is a tribute to Major Gregory's bravery and selflessness, as Yeats notes that he "chose the better part" by giving his life for his country. He also notes that Major Gregory's death has brought him "closer to the stars," suggesting that he has achieved a kind of transcendence through his sacrifice. The final lines of the poem are a call to remember Major Gregory and all those who have given their lives in war, as Yeats notes that "we that are left grow old" and that it is our duty to honor and remember those who have gone before us.

In Memory Of Major Robert Gregory is a powerful and moving tribute to a fallen hero, and a reminder of the human cost of war. Yeats' use of simple language and repetitive structure gives the poem a sense of solemnity and reverence, while his evocative imagery and emotional depth make it a timeless masterpiece of war poetry. As we remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, we can take comfort in the knowledge that their memory lives on, and that their sacrifice was not in vain.

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