'Responsibilities' by William Butler Yeats

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i{Pardon, old fathers, if you still remain
Somewhere in ear-shot for the story's end,
Old Dublin merchant "free of the ten and four"
Or trading out of Galway into Spain;
Old country scholar, Robert Emmet's friend,
A hundred-year-old memory to the poor;
Merchant and scholar who have left me blood
That has not passed through any huckster's loin,
Soldiers that gave, whatever die was cast:
A Butler or an Armstrong that withstood
Beside the brackish waters of the Boyne
James and his Irish when the Dutchman crossed;
Old merchant skipper that leaped overboard
After a ragged hat in Biscay Bay;
You most of all, silent and fierce old man,
Because the daily spectacle that stirred
My fancy, and set my boyish lips to say,
"Only the wasteful virtues earn the sun";
Pardon that for a barren passion's sake,
Although I have come close on forty-nine,
I have no child, I have nothing but a book,
Nothing but that to prove your blood and mine.}

Editor 1 Interpretation

Exploring the Depths of William Butler Yeats' "Responsibilities"

When it comes to William Butler Yeats' poetry, there is no denying that the Irish poet has made a significant contribution to the literary world. However, Yeats' "Responsibilities" stands out as a unique work that delves deep into the poet's personal beliefs and his vision for a better society. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will take a closer look at "Responsibilities" and explore its various themes, symbols, and literary techniques.

The Historical Context of "Responsibilities"

To understand the significance of "Responsibilities," one must first examine the historical context in which it was written. Yeats wrote this poem in 1914, a time of great political and social upheaval in Ireland. The country was on the brink of a rebellion against British rule, and the tension between the two nations was at an all-time high. Yeats was deeply invested in the political and cultural struggles of his time, and his poetry often reflected his beliefs and aspirations for a better Ireland.

Themes and Symbolism in "Responsibilities"

One of the most prominent themes in "Responsibilities" is the idea of responsibility itself. Yeats believed that individuals had a responsibility to themselves and to their society to strive for greatness and to make a positive impact. This is evident in lines such as "In dreams begins responsibility" and "We must bear all that baffles and disconcerts." Yeats saw responsibility as a necessary burden, something that must be embraced in order for individuals to reach their full potential.

Another important theme in "Responsibilities" is the struggle between tradition and change. Yeats was a firm believer in the importance of tradition and the need to preserve Ireland's cultural heritage. However, he also recognized the need for change and progress. This tension is reflected in lines such as "An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick" and "But O, that fire in the sky."

Symbolism plays a significant role in "Responsibilities" as well. The image of the falcon, for example, represents the poet's desire for freedom and his search for truth. The falcon is a symbol of power and grace, and Yeats uses it to convey his hopes and aspirations. The moon is another important symbol in the poem, representing the mysterious and elusive nature of truth and knowledge.

Literary Techniques in "Responsibilities"

Yeats employs a variety of literary techniques in "Responsibilities" to convey his message and to create a rich and evocative poetic experience. One of the most notable techniques is the use of imagery. Yeats paints vivid pictures with his words, bringing his ideas to life with sensory detail. For example, in the opening lines of the poem, he describes a "woman washing her feet in a basin" and "a man under a tree in the wet" to create a sense of realism and immediacy.

Another important technique in "Responsibilities" is the use of repetition. Yeats repeats certain phrases and lines throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm and emphasis. For example, the line "We must bear all that baffles and disconcerts" is repeated several times, underscoring the importance of responsibility and perseverance.

Yeats also employs a complex and intricate rhyme scheme in "Responsibilities." The poem is structured into four stanzas, each with its own unique rhyme pattern. This structured approach creates a sense of order and control, reflecting the poet's belief in the power of tradition and discipline.


In conclusion, "Responsibilities" is a powerful and moving poem that reflects William Butler Yeats' deep commitment to his country and his vision for a better world. Through his use of themes, symbolism, and literary techniques, Yeats creates a rich and evocative poetic experience that resonates with readers today. Whether one is familiar with Irish history and culture or not, "Responsibilities" speaks to universal themes of responsibility, progress, and the struggle between tradition and change.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. His works have been studied and analyzed by scholars and enthusiasts alike, and his contributions to the world of literature are immeasurable. One of his most famous poems, "Responsibilities," is a masterpiece that explores the complexities of human existence and the responsibilities that come with it.

The poem is divided into four stanzas, each with six lines. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as Yeats reflects on the nature of life and the role that humans play in it. He begins by stating that "In dreams begins responsibility," suggesting that our dreams and aspirations are the starting point for our responsibilities in life. He goes on to say that "We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood," acknowledging the duality of human nature and the fact that we are all capable of both good and evil.

The second stanza delves deeper into the idea of responsibility, as Yeats explores the concept of free will and the choices that we make in life. He says that "Our freedom as free lances / Advances towards its end," suggesting that our choices and actions ultimately determine our fate. He also acknowledges the fact that our choices are not always easy, stating that "The earth compels, upon it / Sonnets and birds descend." This line suggests that the natural world has a certain power over us, and that we are often compelled to act in certain ways by our environment.

The third stanza is perhaps the most powerful and poignant of the poem, as Yeats reflects on the nature of love and the responsibilities that come with it. He says that "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." This line suggests that our values and priorities can change over time, and that we are often willing to compromise our principles in order to satisfy our desires. However, Yeats also acknowledges the transformative power of love, stating that "Love has pitched his mansion in / The place of excrement." This line suggests that love can transform even the most base and unpleasant aspects of life into something beautiful and meaningful.

The final stanza of the poem brings everything full circle, as Yeats reflects on the nature of responsibility once again. He says that "The only happy marriage I / Know is the one that's dies." This line suggests that true happiness and fulfillment can only be achieved through sacrifice and selflessness. He goes on to say that "The children live by lawlessness / But we by law," acknowledging the fact that our responsibilities as adults often require us to act in ways that are not always easy or enjoyable.

Overall, "Responsibilities" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the complexities of human existence and the responsibilities that come with it. Yeats' use of language and imagery is masterful, and his insights into the human condition are both profound and timeless. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply someone who appreciates great literature, "Responsibilities" is a must-read that will leave you thinking and reflecting long after you have finished reading it.

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