Notes by Fenella Chesterfield
*Quite drastic change from later poems like “among School Children’ and ‘Easter 1916’, this is a more naive Yeats.
*Expresses Yeats’ frustration over how violence is not the way forward, however peaceful Ireland is ‘with O’Leary in the grave’ and all that is left is violence.
*Significant date, general strike where workers were shut out of factories as their employers did not want to acquiesce to better working conditions / wages
* Union ITGWN (Yeats argued that this was completely against Irish Romanticism)
- Ballad, has a clear chorus
- popular form in Irish Culture
- one of Yeats’ most sarcastic poems, he chooses this form in order to mock
- Simple ABAB rhyme scheme, as sometimes simple structures and strong rhyme carry political messages better.
John O’Leary - died in 1907
- founder of Young Republic Brotherhood
- Yeats was highly influenced by him – he taught Yeats that revolution could be born of art.
- father / grandfather like figure to Yeats
- lambasting against the apathy of the business owners in Dublin
- a direct retaliation to the general strike
- he is disgusted by the business owners, as they are undermining the true Romantic Ireland.
But fumble in a greasy till
- corrupt / untrustworthy
- absolutely lambasting the greed of the owners
And add the halfpence to the pence / And prayer to shivering prayer
- money and religion are all they care about
- pence is such a small amount – emphasizes their greed
- forgotten to care about Ireland
You have dried the marrow from the bone
- absolute annihilation
For man were born to pray and save
- laced with irony
- ‘save’ = money or people?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, / It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
- O’Leary was last bastion of man who had no sense of self-interest. He happily went into exile, but was not interested in making a martyr of himself as some of the Easter 1916 people may have done.
Stanza 2: suggesting that the best prayer is action:
Yet they were of a different kind / The names that stilled your childish play
- talking about great ‘heroes’ of Ireland
- comparing them to the business owners
They have gone about the world like wind
- their homes are both everywhere and nowhere. These men are no longer tangible. you may know a name, but not really know what it did.
But little time had they to pray
- the best prayer is action
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun, / And what, God help us, could they save?
- all those who died for Ireland, what did they achieve? Ultimately their deaths only fueled this greed.
Was it for this the wild geese spread
- ‘wild geese’ is a metaphor for the Irish men who went abroad to fight wars for other nations
- Treaty of Limerick – after which only served Catholic armies and Catholic countries
Repetition of for this emphasises Yeats’ desperation towards the current situation in Ireland.
Also, in the third stanza, as Yeats becomes more desperate, the rhyme scheme is compounded.
Edward Fitzgerald - one of the leaders against the 1798 revolution against the British. Died during the revolution.
Robert Emmet - in 1805, he lead a small uprising in Dublin. He was hanged for it.
Wolfe Tone – sailed to france in 1798 to try and bring back a small french army to help Ireland. He was arrested, but committed suicide the day before he was due to be hanged.
Key word: delirium – suggests that they sacrificed their lives for nothing
- Easter 1916 – ‘ignorant good will’
- In memory… – ‘some vague Utopia’
reference to Cathleen ni Houlihan:
You’d cry, ‘Some woman’s yellow hair / has maddened every mother’s son’
- Cathleen had blond/ golden hair
- use of yellow makes her seem fake and distorted
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
- suggesting that if you truly care about Ireland your life is nothing
- Yeats is trying to tell people their lives are nothing
- only when people realize their lives are nothing does the revolution stand a chance
- perhaps suggesting that if you saw them now, you would say that the dream of Irish independence sent them mad.
But let them be, they’re dead and gone,
- Yeats is telling himself to wake up and let go
The war comes and everything changes. Irony lies in the fact that the moment Ireland gets the opportunity to fight against the British, there is an even greater threat / unforeseen evil: Hitler.
A terrible beauty = the Irish opportunity to fight back
How does Yeats express disappointment? cross reference to:
- Man and Echo
- Easter 1916
- The Second Coming
- Among School Children
- Circus Animals Desertion