'The O'Rahilly' by William Butler Yeats

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SING of the O'Rahilly,
Do not deny his right;
Sing a "the' before his name;
Allow that he, despite
All those learned historians,
Established it for good;
He wrote out that word himself,
He christened himself with blood.
i{How goes the weather?}

Sing of the O'Rahilly
That had such little sense
He told Pearse and Connolly
He'd gone to great expense
Keeping all the Kerry men
Out of that crazy fight;
That he might be there himself
Had travelled half the night.
i{How goes the weather?}

"Am I such a craven that
I should not get the word
But for what some travelling man
Had heard I had not heard?'
Then on pearse and Connolly
He fixed a bitter look:
"Because I helped to wind the clock
I come to hear it strike.'
i{How goes the weather?}

What remains to sing about
But of the death he met
Stretched under a doorway
Somewhere off Henry Street;
They that found him found upon
The door above his head
"Here died the O'Rahilly.
R.I.P.' writ in blood.
i{How goes the weather.?}

Editor 1 Interpretation

The O'Rahilly: A Closer Look at Yeats' Poetic Masterpiece

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of all time. His works have inspired countless readers and writers, earning him a place in the pantheon of literary greats. Among his most captivating works is "The O'Rahilly," a poem that tells the story of a heroic figure from Irish history.

At first glance, "The O'Rahilly" is a straightforward narrative poem. It tells the story of The O'Rahilly, a leader of the Easter Rising of 1916. The poem is written in rhyming quatrains, with each stanza consisting of four lines. On closer inspection, however, the poem reveals itself to be more complex than it first appears.

Setting the Scene

The poem begins with a description of the setting. Yeats paints a picture of a dark and stormy night, with the wind howling and the sea crashing against the shore. This sets the stage for the dramatic events that are about to unfold. It also creates a sense of foreboding and tension.

Introducing The O'Rahilly

The O'Rahilly is introduced in the second stanza. Yeats describes him as a "man of many names," a reference to his many aliases and nicknames. He is also described as "proud and solitary," suggesting that he is a man who stands apart from the crowd. This is a fitting description of a man who was willing to risk his life for a cause he believed in.

The Sacrifice

The central theme of the poem is sacrifice. The O'Rahilly is willing to give everything he has for the cause of Irish independence. Yeats describes him as a man who "sacrificed his own right to life," a reference to the fact that he knew he was going to die but still went ahead with his plan.

The sacrifice is further emphasized in the fifth stanza, where Yeats describes how The O'Rahilly is "stark and stiff and cold." The use of these adjectives creates a sense of finality and underscores the fact that The O'Rahilly has given his life for his beliefs.

The Legacy of The O'Rahilly

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most poignant. Yeats describes how The O'Rahilly's death was not in vain, as it inspired others to continue the fight for Irish independence. He writes:

"He knew that he had done an Irish thing, And that his comrades would take heart; He may have passed the torch to some, He has extinguished his own flame."

These lines capture the essence of The O'Rahilly's sacrifice. His death may have extinguished his own flame, but it sparked a fire in others. It inspired them to continue the fight, even in the face of overwhelming odds.

Interpretation and Analysis

On a deeper level, "The O'Rahilly" can be seen as a commentary on the nature of sacrifice and heroism. The poem asks us to consider what it means to be a hero, and whether the sacrifice of one individual can truly make a difference.

Yeats seems to suggest that it can. The O'Rahilly's sacrifice may have been just one small act in the larger struggle for Irish independence, but it had a profound impact. It inspired others to continue the fight, and it ensured that The O'Rahilly's memory would live on.


In conclusion, "The O'Rahilly" is a masterful poem that explores themes of sacrifice, heroism, and the power of one individual to make a difference. Yeats' use of language and imagery creates a vivid portrait of a man who was willing to give everything for his beliefs. The poem continues to inspire readers today, serving as a reminder of the courage and determination that can drive us to achieve greatness.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The O'Rahilly: A Poetic Tribute to a Revolutionary Hero

William Butler Yeats, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, was known for his evocative and deeply symbolic works that explored themes of love, death, and Irish nationalism. Among his many masterpieces, "The O'Rahilly" stands out as a powerful tribute to a revolutionary hero who fought for Irish independence and died in the Easter Rising of 1916. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, symbols, and historical context of this classic poem, and examine how Yeats uses language and imagery to create a vivid portrait of a brave and tragic figure.

The poem begins with a vivid description of the O'Rahilly's death, as he lies wounded and bleeding on the streets of Dublin:

"He stood upon a chair to write,
The flag that all should see,
But a bullet pierced his tender flesh
And he fell on his bended knee."

These lines immediately establish the tone of the poem as one of mourning and reverence for the fallen hero. The image of the O'Rahilly standing on a chair to write a message on a flag is a powerful symbol of his commitment to the cause of Irish independence, and his willingness to risk his life for his beliefs. The fact that he is shot while in this vulnerable position underscores the senseless violence and tragedy of the Easter Rising, and the sacrifices that were made by those who fought for Irish freedom.

The second stanza of the poem shifts to a more reflective and philosophical tone, as Yeats contemplates the meaning of the O'Rahilly's sacrifice:

"He died upon the street,
A soldier of the Irish race,
A nation's hope in battle's heat,
A nation's heart in peace."

Here, Yeats emphasizes the O'Rahilly's role as a symbol of Irish nationalism, and his importance to the cause of Irish independence. The phrase "a nation's hope in battle's heat" suggests that the O'Rahilly was seen as a key figure in the struggle for Irish freedom, and that his death was a significant blow to the cause. The line "a nation's heart in peace" further underscores the O'Rahilly's importance as a unifying figure for the Irish people, and suggests that his legacy will endure long after his death.

The third stanza of the poem returns to the image of the O'Rahilly lying wounded on the street, and describes the scene in more detail:

"His blood upon the pavement lay,
His life was ebbing fast,
But still he raised his dying voice
And cried, 'Freedom at last!'"

These lines are particularly powerful, as they capture the sense of defiance and determination that characterized the Easter Rising. The image of the O'Rahilly's blood on the pavement is a visceral reminder of the violence and sacrifice that were necessary to achieve Irish independence, while his dying cry of "Freedom at last!" is a stirring call to action that still resonates with Irish nationalists today.

The fourth stanza of the poem shifts to a more personal and emotional tone, as Yeats reflects on his own relationship with the O'Rahilly:

"I knew him in his boyhood days,
His heart was pure and brave,
And in his manhood's gallant ways
He died the land to save."

Here, Yeats draws on his own memories of the O'Rahilly to create a more intimate portrait of the man behind the legend. The phrase "his heart was pure and brave" suggests that the O'Rahilly was not just a hero, but a deeply moral and courageous person who inspired those around him. The line "he died the land to save" further emphasizes the O'Rahilly's commitment to the cause of Irish independence, and his willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

The final stanza of the poem returns to the image of the O'Rahilly lying wounded on the street, and ends with a powerful call to action:

"His spirit walks where'er we go,
His voice is on the air,
And every Irish heart will know
The O'Rahilly's prayer:
'God bless my land of Erin,
And all her children dear,
God bless my friends and kindred,
And keep them in His care.'"

These lines are a fitting tribute to the O'Rahilly's legacy, and a reminder of the ongoing struggle for Irish independence. The phrase "his spirit walks where'er we go" suggests that the O'Rahilly's memory and influence are still felt today, while the final lines of the poem are a poignant reminder of the importance of family, friends, and community in the fight for freedom.

In conclusion, "The O'Rahilly" is a powerful and deeply moving tribute to a revolutionary hero who fought and died for Irish independence. Through his use of vivid imagery, powerful symbols, and evocative language, Yeats creates a portrait of a brave and tragic figure who continues to inspire Irish nationalists today. As we reflect on the sacrifices made by the O'Rahilly and others like him, we are reminded of the ongoing struggle for freedom and justice, and the importance of never forgetting the heroes who came before us.

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