'Remorse For Intemperate Speech' by William Butler Yeats

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I RANTED to the knave and fool,
But outgrew that school,
Would transform the part,
Fit audience found, but cannot rule
My fanatic heart.
I sought my betters:though in each
Fine manners, liberal speech,
Turn hatred into sport,
Nothing said or done can reach
My fanatic heart,
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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Remorse for Intemperate Speech by William Butler Yeats

Are you looking for a poem that captures the intensity and complexity of human emotions? Look no further than "Remorse for Intemperate Speech" by William Butler Yeats. This poem is a masterpiece of subtlety and nuance, exploring themes of regret, shame, and the difficulty of communication.

Structure and Form

The poem is structured as a series of five stanzas, each with four lines. The form is simple and unadorned, with a regular rhyme scheme (ABAB) that lends a certain musicality to the verse. But there is more to the structure than meets the eye. The poem's brevity and directness is deceptive, for it is packed with meaning and emotion.

The Theme of Regret

At its core, "Remorse for Intemperate Speech" is a poem about regret. The speaker is haunted by words he has spoken in haste, words that have caused pain and damage. He wishes he could take them back, but knows he cannot. The regret is palpable in the opening lines:

O, the flame of the beauty of kindled hearts and the harvest of my remorse!

The "flame of beauty" represents the passion and intensity of the speaker's words, which were spoken in the heat of the moment. But now that the moment has passed, the speaker is left with only "remorse" - a rueful sense of regret and self-blame.

The Difficulty of Communication

But the poem is not just about regret - it is also about the difficulty of communication. The speaker realizes that his words have failed to convey his true feelings, and that they have instead caused confusion and hurt. He laments:

O, how shall I, whose tongue when wearies but reels
Into the gulfs of speech, being proven inadequate,
Breathe the fresh air of day again;
How shall I speak of anything but shame?

The language here is rich and complex, with subtle shades of meaning that convey the speaker's sense of inadequacy and frustration. He is unable to find the words to express himself, and the very act of speaking seems to plunge him into a "gulf" of confusion and uncertainty. The phrase "breathe the fresh air of day again" suggests a desire to escape from this suffocating sense of shame and remorse, but the speaker knows that he cannot - his words have already done their damage.

The Role of Memory

Memory plays a crucial role in the poem, for it is through memory that the speaker relives his regret and remorse. He recalls the moment when he spoke intemperately, and the memory is so vivid that it feels like a physical pain:

I have not loved the world, nor the world me,
But let us part fair foes; I loathe not
The cause, but cannot share the effect—
Yet, through no bitterness of mine own,

The phrase "through no bitterness of mine own" is significant here, for it suggests that the speaker is not just regretful, but also angry - angry at himself, and angry at the world. The memory of his intemperate speech is a reminder of his own fallibility and vulnerability, and the pain he feels is both personal and universal.

The Symbolism of Fire

Fire is a recurring symbol in the poem, representing the passion and intensity of the speaker's words. The flame of beauty that he speaks of in the opening lines is a metaphor for the power of language to inspire and transform. But fire is also destructive, and the speaker recognizes that his words have caused harm as well as beauty. He says:

I have believed the best in every man,
And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best
Or even a good man swings his lantern higher;
But, out of envy, hate, and malice,

The phrase "swings his lantern higher" is an allusion to the ancient Greek myth of Diogenes, who went about the streets with a lantern, searching for an honest man. The lantern symbolized the light of truth, and the act of "swinging it higher" represents the search for greater understanding and enlightenment. But the speaker knows that his words have not always been guided by such noble intentions - sometimes they have been motivated by "envy, hate, and malice." The flame of beauty is a double-edged sword, capable of both illuminating and destroying.


In conclusion, "Remorse for Intemperate Speech" is a powerful and moving poem that explores the complexity of human emotions and the difficulty of communication. Through its vivid imagery, subtle symbolism, and rich language, it conveys a sense of regret and self-blame that is universal and timeless. As readers, we can all identify with the speaker's sense of inadequacy and frustration, and we can all appreciate the beauty and danger of language. William Butler Yeats has given us a poem that is both profound and accessible, a testament to the power of poetry to illuminate the human condition.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Remorse For Intemperate Speech: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, wrote a poem titled "Remorse For Intemperate Speech" that is considered a masterpiece in the world of literature. This poem is a reflection of Yeats' personal experiences and his thoughts on the consequences of speaking without thinking. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail.

The poem begins with the speaker expressing his regret for the words he has spoken in the past. He says, "I ranted to the knave and fool, / But outgrew that school, / Would transform the part, / Fit audience found, but cannot rule / My fanatic heart." The speaker acknowledges that he used to speak without thinking and would often rant to people who were not worth his time. However, he has now outgrown that behavior and wants to change his ways. He wants to speak to a more suitable audience, but his heart is still filled with fanaticism, which he cannot control.

The second stanza of the poem is a reflection of the speaker's past behavior. He says, "I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." The speaker is admitting that he has shared his dreams with others, but they have not been respectful of them. He is asking them to be careful with his dreams because they are precious to him.

In the third stanza, the speaker talks about the consequences of his intemperate speech. He says, "I have met them at close of day / Coming with vivid faces / From counter or desk among grey / Eighteenth-century houses." The speaker is referring to the people he has spoken to in the past, who he has now realized are not worth his time. He has met them at the end of the day, when they are tired and worn out from their daily routine. The vivid faces of these people suggest that they are happy and content with their lives, despite the speaker's negative opinions of them.

The fourth stanza of the poem is a reflection of the speaker's current state of mind. He says, "I have passed with a nod of the head / Or polite meaningless words, / Or have lingered awhile and said / Polite meaningless words." The speaker is admitting that he now avoids these people or engages in meaningless conversations with them. He has realized that his intemperate speech has caused him to lose respect and credibility in their eyes.

In the fifth stanza, the speaker talks about the people he wishes to speak to. He says, "And thought before I had done / Of a mocking tale or a gibe / To please a companion / Around the fire at the club." The speaker wants to speak to people who are worthy of his time and attention. He wants to engage in meaningful conversations with them, rather than making fun of others to please his companions.

The sixth and final stanza of the poem is a reflection of the speaker's regret for his past behavior. He says, "Being certain that they and I / But lived where motley is worn: / All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born." The speaker is acknowledging that he and the people he used to speak to were all living in a world of chaos and confusion. However, everything has changed now, and a terrible beauty has been born. This line is a reference to the Easter Rising of 1916, which was a turning point in Irish history. The speaker is suggesting that his own personal transformation is similar to the transformation that Ireland underwent during this time.

In conclusion, "Remorse For Intemperate Speech" is a powerful poem that reflects Yeats' personal experiences and his thoughts on the consequences of speaking without thinking. The poem is a reminder that our words have power and that we should be careful with what we say. The speaker's journey from intemperate speech to regret and transformation is a powerful message that we can all learn from. Yeats' use of language and imagery in this poem is masterful, and it is no wonder that this poem is considered a masterpiece in the world of literature.

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