Notes by Olivia Highwood
A Background of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markiewicz
For more information on the sisters, see the page on ‘Yeats’ Women’
Eva Gore-Booth was the younger sister of Constance Gore-Booth, who later became Constance Markiewicz. The sisters were born at Lissadell House where Yeats spent a lot of his time as a young man. The sisters were brought up in an aristocratic family, and both gave it up to live the different and fervent lifestyles that they chose. Eva was a committed suffragette and fell in love – and formed a committed relationship with a woman, Esther Roper.
Eva and Esther created a Sligo branch of the Irish Women’s Suffrage, which was where Lissadell was situated. William Butler Yeats had earlier thought about proposing to Eva before she fell in love with Esther. Constance Markiewicz was an Irish National Revolutionary, and became the first female elected to the British House of Commons; although as a member of Sinn Fein she would not accept the seat. She was sentenced to death after the Easter Rising of 1916, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment – following a public outcry both in Britain and Ireland – because she was a woman. The sisters died within one year of each other in 1926 and 1927.
Analysis of the Poem
‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’ mirrors the structure of a Petrachen Sonnet, but the poem is longer. It therefore- in terms of form – seems like a typical Petrachen Sonnet has been stretched. The first four lines show the set up of the poem, and how the girls did not suit being at Lissadell. It also shows the luxury of the house that they grew up in; ‘Great windows open to the south’ showing how big and imposing it was. Yeats relates the sisters to Asian/African themes to show how they did not ‘fit in’ to their aristocratic lives: ‘silk kimonos’ and ‘one a gazelle’ illustrate this point, and also shows the elegance of Eva Gore-Booth. However, Yeats describes how they are stripped of their beauty by age by saying ‘autumn shears blossom from the summer’s wreath.’ Yeats calls Constance ignorant for her actions in Easter 1916, and adds to the irrelevance of her ways by saying that they were ‘younger dreams’, and therefore she was young and foolish. He thinks that she dreamed of a ‘utopia’ which was an unachievable perfect state. Yeats compares Constance to her politics by saying that she is ‘skeleton-gaunt’, and that fervor for something takes away beauty, as it did with Maud Gonne. He thinks that he should have been to see them, but didn’t, leading to ‘A terrible beauty is born’ in Easter 1916. Yeats portrays the ‘talk of youth’ to be a policy of talking rather than doing, and wanting change to happen, rather than making it happen. The first stanza shows the point that fervor can corrupt beauty, and make one look old and spoiled.
The second stanza of the poem gives more support for the sisters, rather than criticism of them, as was shown in the first stanza. Yeats suggests that he believes in some sort of afterlife when he says ‘Dear shadows’, and furthermore once again shows the ignorance of the thoughts of youthful people by saying ‘now you know it all.’ This suggests that they didn’t know everything before they died, but now – in death – they can have the ultimate, omnipotent, knowledge. In addition, the ambiguity of ‘shadows’ suggests that the nature of the afterlife Yeats imagines is not necessarily rooted in any particular theological doctrine. The poem shows the childishness of the sisters’ actions by saying ‘the folly of a fight’, which also shows the madness of what they are doing. The point of childishness is emphasized by rhyming ‘fight’ and ‘right’ together, by showing the immaturity of the poem’s structure. The comparison of a ‘gazebo’ attached to a house shows the way that Ireland is attached to Great Britain. It makes the arrangement seem temporary, and weak. This can also show them making a fool of themselves, as ‘gazebo’ means to make a fool of oneself in colloquial Hiberno-English. Yeats also pins the blame of the sisters’ downfall on himself because he did not see them or stop them by saying; ‘they convicted us of guilt.’ The final line of the poem shows how he played a part in what happened: ‘Bid me strike a match and blow.’ This could either mean that his plays that showed fervor should have been written but never shown, or that he should have let them run their course and faced the consequences. This depends upon whether he is giving the metaphorical match oxygen to burn, or blowing it out. It leaves us with a question as to whether he regrets it, and if so what does he regret? Although a match is temporary, it can lead to bigger things that have the potential to destroy.
Key Links to Other Poems
– Among School Children -‘When withered old and skeleton-gaunt, an image of such politics’ – Maud Gonne
– Easter 1916 -‘Conspiring among the ignorant’- the thoughts of the people in the uprising were ignorant. ‘
– ‘Two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle’ (Lines 3&4, 19&20)
– ‘The innocent and the beautiful have no enemy but time’ (Lines 24&25)
Two poems by Eva Gore-Booth
Grief for the noble dead
Of one who did not share their strife
And mourned that any blood was shed
Yet felt the broken glory of their state
Their strange heroic questioning of fate
Ribbon with gold the rags of this our life
The Arrest and Heroic Death 1916
No man shall deck their resting place with flowers;
Behind a prison wall they stood to die
Yet in those flowerless tragic graves of ours
Buried, the broken dreams of Ireland lie
No cairn-heaped mound on a high windy hill
With Irish earth the hero’s heart enfolds
But a burning grave at Pentonville
The broken heart of Ireland holds
Ah! Ye who slay the body, how man’s soul
Rises above your hatred and your scorns
All flowers fade as the years onward roll,
Theirs is the deathless wreath – a crown of thorns