'Easter , 1916' by William Butler Yeats
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I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
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.
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,
A terrible beauty is born.
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Easter, 1916: William Butler Yeats’ Elegy for the Irish Revolution
When writing about Irish literature, it is impossible not to mention the name William Butler Yeats. The Nobel laureate poet, playwright, and essayist was one of the most significant figures of the Irish literary revival in the early 20th century.
Yeats was also a fervent nationalist and a passionate advocate of the Irish cause, which he expressed in his poetry and other writings. One of his most famous poems, Easter, 1916, is a powerful elegy for the Irish revolution and the martyrs who died for it.
In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, symbols, and stylistic devices that Yeats employs in Easter, 1916, and the message he conveys through them.
The central theme of Easter, 1916, is the Irish revolution and its aftermath. The poem was written in response to the Easter Rising of 1916, a failed armed rebellion against British rule in Ireland, in which several leaders of the Irish Republican Brotherhood were executed.
However, Yeats’ poem is not a straightforward celebration of the rebels or their cause. On the contrary, it is a complex and nuanced exploration of the conflicting emotions and perspectives that the event evoked in him and in others.
One of the most prominent themes of the poem is the tension between the idealistic vision of the rebels and the harsh reality of their defeat. Yeats describes the rebels as “dreamers” and “romantic” figures, who “had thought to change the world” and “a terrible beauty is born.”
However, he also acknowledges the flaws and limitations of their vision, as well as the violence and bloodshed that it entailed. He describes how the “ignorant good-will” of the crowds who cheered the rebels turned into “stone-hearted” indifference after the execution of their leaders.
Another theme of the poem is the transience of human life and the inevitability of death. Yeats contrasts the “living stream” of ordinary people with the “stone” of the monuments and buildings that outlast them. He also reflects on his own mortality and the fleeting nature of his artistic legacy.
Finally, the poem is also a meditation on the role of the poet in society and the responsibility of art to respond to political and social events. Yeats acknowledges his own ambivalence and uncertainty about his position as a poet and his relationship to the revolution. He also reflects on the power of language and imagery to shape public opinion and to commemorate historical events.
Yeats uses a variety of symbols and images in Easter, 1916, to convey his themes and to create a rich and evocative poetic landscape.
One of the most striking symbols in the poem is the “terrible beauty” that is born from the rebels’ sacrifice. The phrase is paradoxical and ambiguous, suggesting both the tragic and heroic nature of the event, as well as its transformative and awe-inspiring impact.
Another important symbol is the “stone” that appears throughout the poem, representing the solidity and permanence of material objects and historical monuments, as well as the indifference and insensitivity of the crowd to the rebels’ cause.
The “living stream” is another powerful symbol, representing the vitality and diversity of ordinary people, as well as their transience and vulnerability.
The “fumbling in a greasy till” is a symbol of the corruption and greed of the contemporary world, which stands in sharp contrast to the selflessness and idealism of the rebels.
Finally, the “lonely impulse of delight” is a symbol of the individual desire for freedom and self-expression, which can lead to both creative and destructive actions.
Yeats’ use of language and other stylistic devices in Easter, 1916, is masterful and innovative, creating a blend of lyricism, symbolism, and realism that is uniquely his own.
One of the most striking features of the poem is the use of repetition and parallelism, which creates a sense of rhythm and intensity, as well as a cumulative effect.
For example, the phrase “A terrible beauty is born” is repeated three times in the poem, each time with a slightly different emphasis and context.
The use of alliteration and assonance is also prominent in the poem, contributing to its musicality and emotional impact.
The poem also contains several rhetorical devices, such as metaphor, simile, and paradox, which create layers of meaning and ambiguity.
For example, the metaphor of the “stone heart” and the paradox of the “terrible beauty” are both powerful and memorable images that capture the complexity and nuance of the event.
Finally, the poem also contains several literary allusions and references, such as the lines from the play Cathleen ni Houlihan, which suggest the continuity and resonance of Irish history and culture.
Easter, 1916, is a complex and multi-layered poem that resists easy interpretation or categorization. However, some possible readings and interpretations of the poem are:
1. A critique of violence and extremism
Yeats’ ambivalence and criticism of the rebels’ tactics and vision can be seen as a reflection of his own rejection of violence and extremism as means of achieving social and political change. He acknowledges the allure and passion of the rebels’ cause, but also the futility and tragedy of their actions.
2. A celebration of idealism and sacrifice
On the other hand, Yeats’ portrayal of the rebels as “dreamers” and “romantic” figures can also be seen as a celebration of their idealism and self-sacrifice, which he sees as a necessary and noble part of the Irish national identity. The “terrible beauty” that he describes can be seen as the transcendent and enduring legacy of the rebels’ sacrifice.
3. A reflection on the role of the artist in society
Finally, Easter, 1916, can also be seen as a meditation on the role of the artist in society and the responsibility of art to respond to political and social events. Yeats’ own ambivalence and uncertainty about his position as a poet and his relationship to the revolution can be seen as a reflection of the tensions and dilemmas that many artists face when they engage with political themes.
In conclusion, Easter, 1916, is a powerful and complex elegy for the Irish revolution and the martyrs who died for it. Yeats’ use of symbols, themes, and stylistic devices creates a rich and evocative poetic landscape that captures the complexity and nuance of the event. The poem remains a powerful and enduring testament to the enduring legacy of the Irish struggle for independence and identity.
Long live the Irish cause!
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry Easter, 1916: A Masterpiece of Irish Literature
William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, wrote Poetry Easter, 1916 as a tribute to the Irish rebels who fought for independence from British rule. This poem is a masterpiece of Irish literature that captures the spirit of the Easter Rising, a pivotal moment in Irish history. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbolism of this poem and how they contribute to its enduring significance.
The poem begins with a description of the city of Dublin, which is depicted as a peaceful and tranquil place. The speaker notes that the city is "sleeping" and that the "streets are quiet." However, this peacefulness is soon shattered by the sound of gunfire, which echoes through the city. The speaker then describes the rebels who have taken up arms against the British, noting that they are "terrible" and "beautiful" at the same time.
The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a meditation on the nature of sacrifice and heroism. The rebels are portrayed as heroic figures who are willing to give their lives for the cause of Irish independence. The speaker notes that these rebels are "changed, changed utterly" by their actions, suggesting that they have undergone a profound transformation as a result of their sacrifice.
The second stanza of the poem focuses on the aftermath of the rebellion. The speaker notes that the rebels have been executed by the British and that their bodies have been "strewn" across the city. The speaker then asks a rhetorical question: "Was it needless death after all?" This question is central to the poem's theme, which is the nature of sacrifice and whether it is worth the cost.
The third stanza of the poem is a tribute to the rebels who have died for the cause of Irish independence. The speaker notes that these rebels will be remembered for their sacrifice and that their memory will inspire future generations of Irishmen. The speaker also notes that the rebels have achieved a kind of immortality through their sacrifice, suggesting that their memory will live on long after their physical bodies have decayed.
The fourth and final stanza of the poem is a meditation on the nature of history and how it is shaped by the actions of individuals. The speaker notes that the rebels have "changed" the course of Irish history and that their sacrifice has given birth to a new Ireland. The speaker also notes that the rebels have become "a terrible beauty" in the eyes of the Irish people, suggesting that their sacrifice has elevated them to the status of national heroes.
The imagery and symbolism in Poetry Easter, 1916 are rich and complex. The city of Dublin is depicted as a peaceful and tranquil place, which is contrasted with the violence and chaos of the rebellion. The rebels themselves are depicted as both "terrible" and "beautiful," suggesting that their actions are both heroic and tragic. The use of the word "terrible" also suggests that the rebels are feared by their enemies, while the use of the word "beautiful" suggests that they are admired by their fellow countrymen.
The use of rhetorical questions in the poem is also significant. The speaker asks whether the rebels' sacrifice was "needless," suggesting that there is a cost to heroism and that it is not always clear whether that cost is worth paying. The speaker also asks whether the rebels have achieved immortality through their sacrifice, suggesting that their memory will live on long after their physical bodies have decayed.
The theme of sacrifice is central to Poetry Easter, 1916. The rebels are portrayed as heroic figures who are willing to give their lives for the cause of Irish independence. The poem suggests that sacrifice is a necessary part of heroism and that it is through sacrifice that individuals can achieve immortality. However, the poem also suggests that sacrifice is not always clear-cut and that there is a cost to heroism that must be weighed against the potential benefits.
In conclusion, Poetry Easter, 1916 is a masterpiece of Irish literature that captures the spirit of the Easter Rising and the sacrifices made by the rebels who fought for Irish independence. The poem is a meditation on the nature of sacrifice and heroism, and it raises important questions about the cost of heroism and whether it is worth paying. The imagery and symbolism in the poem are rich and complex, and the use of rhetorical questions adds depth and complexity to the poem's themes. Overall, Poetry Easter, 1916 is a powerful and enduring work of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.
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