'On Those That Hated "The Playboy Of The Western World",' 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" by William Butler Yeats
Are you a fan of Irish literature? Do you enjoy reading plays that explore complex themes like identity, violence, and cultural traditions? If so, then you have probably encountered one of the most controversial works of Irish drama: "The Playboy of the Western World" by J.M. Synge.
But did you know that this play was met with fierce opposition when it was first produced in Dublin in 1907? Many people, especially those who considered themselves to be nationalists and defenders of Irish culture, felt that "The Playboy" was a deeply offensive play that glorified violence and denigrated the Irish people.
In response to this controversy, William Butler Yeats, one of the most renowned poets of the Irish literary revival, wrote a poem entitled "On Those That Hated 'The Playboy of the Western World'". In this poem, Yeats defends the play and the artistic freedom of its creator, arguing that those who opposed it were misguided and shortsighted.
In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore Yeats' poem in detail, examining its key themes and ideas, and uncovering the deeper meanings behind its words. So sit back, relax, and let's dive into the world of Irish drama and poetry.
The Context of the Poem
Before we delve into the poem itself, it's important to understand the context in which it was written. "The Playboy of the Western World" was a play written by J.M. Synge, a young Irish playwright who was associated with the Irish Literary Theatre, a group dedicated to promoting Irish literature and culture. The play tells the story of Christy Mahon, a young man who becomes a hero in a small Irish village after he claims to have killed his father.
When the play was first produced in Dublin in 1907, it caused a major scandal. Many Irish nationalists, who were striving for independence from Britain and the revival of Irish culture, saw the play as an attack on Irish identity and a glorification of violence. Riots broke out at the theatre and the actors were pelted with fruit and vegetables.
It was in this context that Yeats wrote "On Those That Hated 'The Playboy of the Western World'". His poem was a defense of the play and an attack on those who opposed it. Yeats argued that art should be allowed to explore difficult and controversial themes, and that those who opposed "The Playboy" were missing the deeper meanings of the play.
The Themes of the Poem
At its core, "On Those That Hated 'The Playboy of the Western World'" is a poem about artistic freedom and the power of art to challenge our beliefs and assumptions. Yeats uses the controversy surrounding "The Playboy" to explore larger themes about the role of art in society and the importance of openness and tolerance in the face of criticism.
One of the key themes of the poem is the idea that art should be allowed to explore difficult and controversial themes. Yeats argues that "The Playboy" is a work of art that is grappling with complex issues, such as violence, identity, and tradition. He suggests that those who oppose the play are doing so because they are uncomfortable with the uncomfortable truths that it exposes.
Yeats also argues that those who oppose "The Playboy" are missing the deeper meanings of the play. He suggests that the play is not simply a celebration of violence, but a complex work of art that explores the complexities of Irish identity and tradition. Yeats writes, "For the play has social significance, too, / Though we might have guessed / The social prophets would have cried it down, / Being deaf and blind, / Because it wrought out of paper and out of thought / Paradise enow."
In other words, Yeats is arguing that art has the power to create a kind of paradise, a world of the imagination that can help us to understand and grapple with difficult truths about ourselves and our society. He suggests that those who oppose "The Playboy" are failing to see this deeper meaning and are instead reacting with fear and anger.
Another key theme of the poem is the importance of openness and tolerance in the face of criticism. Yeats suggests that those who oppose "The Playboy" are closed-minded and intolerant, unable to see the value of a work of art that challenges their beliefs and assumptions. He writes, "And we that stand around in life's tumultuous dance / Halt awhile, / Being to this or that so much enslaved; / Our hearts are wrung with bitterness, / Our thoughts are steeped in gall."
In other words, Yeats is suggesting that those who oppose "The Playboy" are so caught up in their own beliefs and prejudices that they are unable to see the value of a work of art that challenges them. He suggests that we need to be open and tolerant in the face of criticism, willing to listen to different perspectives and engage with ideas that may be uncomfortable or challenging.
The Style and Language of the Poem
Like much of Yeats' poetry, "On Those That Hated 'The Playboy of the Western World'" is characterized by its beautiful language and rich imagery. Yeats uses vivid descriptions and metaphors to convey his ideas, creating a powerful and evocative portrait of the controversy surrounding "The Playboy".
One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of repetition. Yeats repeats the phrase "Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?" several times throughout the poem, creating a kind of refrain that echoes throughout the work. This repetition serves to emphasize the importance of the central question of the poem, namely, whether art can be blamed for the actions of those who take it too far.
Yeats also makes use of alliteration and assonance to create a musical quality to the poem. He writes, "And we that stand around in life's tumultuous dance / Halt awhile", using the repetition of the "l" sound to create a sense of movement and rhythm in the words.
Overall, Yeats' use of language and style in "On Those That Hated 'The Playboy of the Western World'" serves to emphasize the power of art and the importance of openness and tolerance in the face of controversy.
In conclusion, "On Those That Hated 'The Playboy of the Western World'" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores themes of artistic freedom, tolerance, and the power of art to challenge our beliefs and assumptions. In the context of the controversy surrounding "The Playboy", Yeats uses beautiful language and vivid imagery to defend the play and argue for the importance of openness and tolerance in the face of criticism.
Whether you are a fan of Irish literature or simply interested in the power of art to shape our understanding of the world, "On Those That Hated 'The Playboy of the Western World'" is a work that is sure to provoke thought and spark discussion.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry On Those That Hated "The Playboy Of The Western World" - An Analysis
William Butler Yeats, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, wrote a poem titled "Poetry On Those That Hated 'The Playboy Of The Western World'" in response to the controversy surrounding the play of the same name. The play, written by J.M. Synge, was first performed in Dublin in 1907 and caused a stir among the Irish audience, who found the portrayal of Irish rural life and the characters' behavior scandalous. Yeats, who was a friend and supporter of Synge, wrote this poem to defend the play and its author against the criticism and hostility they faced.
The poem is a powerful defense of artistic freedom and a scathing critique of the narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy of those who opposed the play. It is a passionate and eloquent plea for the recognition of the value of art, even when it challenges the conventions and prejudices of society. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, language, and structure of the poem and examine its relevance to the cultural and political context in which it was written.
The poem begins with a direct address to the "players and painted stage" and the "playwright" who created them. Yeats praises the play and its author for their courage and originality, and he celebrates the power of art to challenge and transform the world. He writes:
"Playwright, player, and audience make a great play, For our time has come to strive, And the plover-haunted mountains and the Shannon waves Are alive with the sunken Ireland of our hearts."
Here, Yeats is invoking the Irish landscape and the cultural heritage of the country, which he sees as a source of inspiration and renewal. He is also acknowledging the political and social tensions of the time, as Ireland was struggling for independence from British rule and facing a crisis of identity and self-determination. The play, with its portrayal of Irish characters and their struggles, was seen by many as a reflection of these issues and a challenge to the dominant cultural and political forces of the time.
Yeats goes on to address the critics and opponents of the play, whom he describes as "the fools, the frauds, and the blind." He accuses them of being narrow-minded and ignorant, unable to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the play and its characters. He writes:
"But let them be, they're dead and gone, They're with O'Leary in the grave, The fools, the frauds, and the blind, Who would not let their friend alone, And loved the manhood of his mind, The heretic in his rags and all That stood up for his wrongs."
Here, Yeats is referring to John O'Leary, a prominent Irish nationalist and cultural figure who had died a few years earlier. O'Leary was a friend and mentor to Yeats and Synge, and his influence can be seen in their work. Yeats is using his memory to contrast the narrow-mindedness of the critics with the visionary and rebellious spirit of O'Leary and his generation.
The poem then takes a more personal and emotional turn, as Yeats reflects on his own relationship with Synge and the impact of the play on their friendship. He writes:
"I have met them at close of day Coming with vivid faces From counter or desk among grey Eighteenth-century houses. I have passed with a nod of the head Or polite meaningless words, Or have lingered awhile and said Polite meaningless words, And thought before I had done Of a mocking tale or a gibe To please a companion Around the fire at the club, Being certain that they and I But lived where motley is worn: All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."
This famous stanza is often quoted as a powerful expression of the impact of the play on Irish culture and identity. Yeats is describing the moment of realization when he and his generation realized that the old ways of thinking and living were no longer sufficient, and that a new, more complex and challenging reality was emerging. The phrase "a terrible beauty is born" has become a catchphrase for the cultural and political upheavals of the time, and for the transformative power of art to inspire and challenge.
The poem ends with a call to action, as Yeats urges his fellow artists and thinkers to continue the struggle for freedom and creativity. He writes:
"That woman's days were spent In ignorant good-will, Her nights in argument Until her voice grew shrill. What voice more sweet than hers When, young and beautiful, She rode to harriers? This man had kept a school And rode our winged horse. This other his helper and friend Was coming into his force; He might have won fame in the end, So sensitive his nature seemed, So daring and sweet his thought. This other man I had dreamed A drunken, vainglorious lout. He had done most bitter wrong To some who are near my heart, Yet I number him in the song; He, too, has resigned his part In the casual comedy; He, too, has been changed in his turn, Transformed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."
Here, Yeats is acknowledging the complexity and diversity of human nature, and the fact that even those who oppose us or challenge us can have something valuable to contribute. He is also emphasizing the importance of artistic freedom and the need to resist the forces of censorship and conformity. The phrase "a terrible beauty is born" is repeated, underscoring its significance as a symbol of the transformative power of art and the potential for change and renewal.
In conclusion, "Poetry On Those That Hated 'The Playboy Of The Western World'" is a powerful and eloquent defense of artistic freedom and a celebration of the transformative power of art. It is a passionate and emotional response to the controversy surrounding the play and a call to action for artists and thinkers to continue the struggle for creativity and freedom. The poem's themes of cultural identity, political struggle, and artistic expression are still relevant today, and its language and imagery continue to inspire and challenge readers and audiences around the world.
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