The Man and the Echo

Notes by Henry Jamieson

Written in 1938, just before Yeats’ death.

Structure

Made up of rhyming couplets

Trochaic Tetrametre:  /-/-/-/-

 

The effect of the Echo – “Lie down and die.” “Into the night.”

The Echo takes his words out of context, changing their meaning and representing the lack of control one has over their words one they have been spoken. Yeats [The Man] argues against the echo emulating his frustration at the misinterpretation, manipulation and misuse of his works by others.

The discord between Yeats and his echo shows the conflict of thoughts within himself as the echo is only an extension of himself, his words and ideas repeated back to him.

Stanza 1

The poem begins with the “Man” – Yeats – travelling to a quiet, dark and cold (“broad noon has never lit”) place, parodying the journey to the Oracle of Delphi, and so suggesting a need for answers. He is haunted by a sense of unknowing about questions of life, philosophy and his own past – as he can “never get the answers right.”

 

He goes on to comment on the regrets of his life, betraying a sense of guilt that is compounded by his lying “awake night after night” suggesting guilt and potentially insomnia to the point where “all seems evil until I/ Sleepless would lie down and die.” Meaning either he feels that death is the only thing that would release him from the regret he feels and sin in the world or, that his death would end the evil coming of his writing.

 

References to Historical events/ Events in Yeats’ life

  • Line 11-12: “Did that play of mine send out/ Certain men the English shot?” Refers to the Easter 1916 executions after the uprising. Yeats’ is questioning whether he was the cause of the uprising and the resultant deaths through his play Cathleen ni Houlihan – in which a woman personifying Ireland incites a bridegroom to rebellion and death.

 

  • Line 13-14: “Did words of mine put too great strain/ On that woman’s reeling brain?” These lines refer to Margo Collins, an aspiring, mentally unstable writer, who Yeats’ had an affair with. She became his muse and he mentored her, attempting to improve her poetry. Yeats broke off their relationship after becoming dissatisfied with her poetry leading to further mental breakdowns and her eventual suicide.

 

  • Line 15-16: “Could my spoken words have checked/ That whereby a house lay wrecked?” In these lines Yeats asks whether his influence through his poetry, plays and politics could have enabled him to prevent the destruction of many of the old mansions, specifically Coole Park where he met with Lady Gregory – the other driving force of the artistic revolution in Ireland.

 

Stanza 2

In the second stanza, as Yeats admits in the third, he has “lost the theme” and original purpose of the poem. He abandons the personal analysis of his mistakes and regrets and begins to talk of far broader philosophical issues. Yeats disapproved of the use of alcohol, drugs and love to lessen the pains of life and “drug him [man in general] to sleep.” Yeats believed that one must bear the toils and hardship of life, that death will provide no release for the wearied and sorrowful and that the point is for one to bear it to end it by suicide or giving into disease is just cowardly. – This opinion contrasts with some of his earlier canon such as An Irish Airman Foresees his Death where Yeats seems to believe that death is a way out of the meaningless and “wasted breath” of life.

Yeats’ is of the opinion, contrary to Sailing to Byzantium where he appeals to the “Sages standing in God’s holy fire,” that all existence, even intellect, is lost to the man when he “sinks at last into the night.” – Suggestive of nothingness after death.

Stanza 3

In this stanza Yeats rhetorically asks his echo, “Shall we in this great night rejoice?” This is either questioning the existence of a god and afterlife; whether death is something to be celebrated or if the end of life and release from the physical something to be rejoiced in. He comments that he has lost the theme and goes onto to conclude that one should live in the moment; by finishing the poem talking about a “hawk or owl” preying on a “stricken rabbit” (symbolising life and the present moment) and saying how the rabbits “cry distracts” his philosophical thoughts.

 

References to other literature/mythology

The setting for the poem, “In a cleft that’s christened Alt/ Under broken stone I halt” alludes to or parodies the journey to the Oracle of Delphi – a priestess at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the most prestigious and authoritative oracle in the ancient Greek world.

“There is no release/ In a bodkin or disease” – Refers to Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech : “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,/ Th’oppressor’s wrong… When he himself might his quietus make/ With a bare bodkin?”

Key Quotations

 

I lie awake night after night/ And never get the answers right

All seems evil until I/ Sleepless would lie down and die.

[Echo]Lie down and die. [Man] That were to shirk/ the spiritual intellectual’s great work

There is no release/ In a bodkin or disease

Shall we in that great night rejoice?

15 thoughts on “The Man and the Echo

  1. Perhaps the reference to nature at the end of the poem acts as a metaphor. The “stricken rabbit” might represent Yeats whilst “its cry distracts my thought” might represent the poet’s own echo?

      • Maybe “Sailing to Byzantium” where Yeats describes himself as being “fastened to a dying animal” although here Yeats is more hopeful of what death may bring, in “Man and the Echo” the poet fears death and believes, or wishes, that death brings nothingness . However in both in irrevocably returns to nature.

    • Yes, or the ‘stricken rabbit’ may refer to us and our vulnerability; we are like rabbits in our ignorance. ‘It’s cry distracts my thought’ may refer to him realising that we could be taken at any time and the mystery of the afterlife.

  2. Could you please kindly offer some more analysis on form and structure of the poems, as well as rhetorical devices
    .This site has so far been my only source of preparation for the exam and I dont know how to thank you for your amazing help, and for free!…. I pay thousands for a private school and i get nothing ,untill i came acrosss this amazing website, ill let you know about my results as soon as i got theem.PRAY FOR ME.

  3. I don’t even understand what the Easter uprising is, sorry 4 being ignorant. but is it like bugs bunny? or fighting over Lindor? why did so many peeps die, I don’t believe in war, just to save old Ireland? Its just emo’s wanting fights not peace

    • The Easter Uprising happened in 1916, and was a failed attempt by Irish nationalists to take back power from the English whilst their military presence in Ireland was lessened because of WW1. The English ultimately quashed their attempt and they sentenced a number of those involved to death, including one woman, and this was hugely shocking to the Irish public at the time. No one ever expected that the English would ever react so strongly and their deaths were a huge blow to not just the nationalist cause but also the general public. It left a lasting impression on a lot of people and Yeats frequently refers to it in his poems (Easter 1916 is all about this).

      It’s really relevant to a lot of Yeats’ poems, so maybe have a quick skim over the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Rising

      It’s difficult to understand why people would resort to fighting, but England has treated Ireland terribly throughout their history. They exerted complete control over Ireland and tried to prevent them from speaking their own language, enforced their own ideals and culture on the Irish people – all sorts. It’s hard to summarise it, but just imagine if say France decided tomorrow that they should be allowed to rule over England, ignored the wishes of the English people, made laws to stop children being taught English in schools and insisted everyone speak French, started selling your homes and land to other French people – I can’t imagine anyone being terribly happy with that. For the Irish, an English rule was not peaceful, so it wasn’t a case of them creating conflict where there was none, it was more a manifestation of how many Irish people felt and a reaction to the way they had been treated by the English.

      I hope this helps a bit!

  4. Pingback: Hello, hello, hello | Azkaban

    • Easter 1916 (‘Certain men the English shot’) , September 1913 (Did that play of mine’ versus ‘…Some woman’s yellow hair / Has maddened every mother’s son’, The Cat and the Moon and Among School Children (the idea that love for Maud has ‘drugged’ him away from more important concerns: ‘wine or love drug him to sleep’), An Irish Airman… (‘…all’s arranged in one clear view / pursues the thoughts that I pursue’) and, of course, ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ (the idea of escaping / existential crisis)…

  5. Hi, Thanks for the article!
    Just wondering where you found the information regarding the setting for the poem?

    “In a cleft that’s christened Alt/ Under broken stone I halt”

    How do we know that the cleft is christened alt, alludes to or parodies the journey to the Oracle of Delphi?

    Thanks for your help!

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