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Yeats

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Edmund Chung Ms. Hallas OAC English Period 3 2 June 2001 Writing for Free Ireland: Yeats’s Poetry William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet, a dramatist, and a prose writer - one of the greatest English-language poets of the twentieth century. (Yeats 1) His early poetry and drama acquired ideas from Irish fable and arcane study. (Eiermann 1) Yeats used the themes of nationalism, freedom from oppression, social division, and unity when writing about his country. Yeats, an Irish nationalist, used the three poems, “To Ireland in the Coming Times,” “September 1913” and “Easter 1916” which revealed an expression of his feelings about the War of Irish Independence through theme, mood and figurative language. The theme of nationalism dominates in “To Ireland in the Coming times” and in “Easter 1916.” In the former poem, Yeats suggested the idea of Irish brotherhood to achieve justice for Ireland, “True brother of a company, that sang, to sweeten Ireland’s wrong” (Finneran 50). Although he wanted to fight for Ireland’s freedom, he did not participate in any military activities. Instead, he used songs and poems to reflect the situation in Ireland: I cast my heart into my rhymes, That you, in the dim coming times, May know how my heart went with them (Finneran 51) In the latter poem, he mentioned the names of the national heroes such as MacDonagh who died for the rebellion (Abrams 2308) and said, “Now and in time to be, / Whenever green is worn,” (Finneran 182). Green, being the colour of the soldiers’ uniforms and also the national colour of Ireland, alluded that the war was still going on in Ireland. The theme of freedom from oppression was introduced in “September 1913.” Although Yeats loved his country, he often criticized it. He left Ireland after he published this poem which stated that the Ireland of his imagination no longer existed, “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, / It’s with O’Leary in the grave.” (Finneran 108). Yeats implied that Irish freedom fighters, such as O’Leary, have died in vain. He also inferred that there were no longer any people who were willing to fight for Ireland: Yet they were of a different kind, The names that stilled your childish play, They have gone about the world like wind, (Finneran 108) The contemporary Roman Catholic middle classes had defeated the cause for which Yeats fought for at that time; hence Yeats felt oppressed by his own people. (Abram 2303) The theme of social division appeared in “September 1913” because Yeats detested the middle classes and their Philistine money grabbing (Abrams 2303) as describe in the first three lines: What need you, being come to sense, But fumble in a greasy till And add the halfpence to the pence (Finneran 108) To Yeats, the middle classes had forgotten their own history. They insulted the memories of the Irish heroes who fought for freedom and the rights to be Catholic. Through this poem, Yeats suggested that the middle classes only cared about money, not the freedom of their country. He tended to romanticize the aristocracy and peasants but hated the middle classes for their indifference to Ireland. (Abrams 2303) Yeats also implied that because of the selfishness, they made everything meaningless, destroying the romantic Ireland. In contrast, the poems “To Ireland in the Coming Times” and “Easter 1916” carried the theme of unity. In the former poem, Yeats said, “That you, in the dim coming times, / May know how my heart went with them” (Finneran 51). He was saying that his dreams for Ireland would live on even when he was dead. Yeats wrote the latter poem after the Easter Rebellion. (Abrams 2307) It expressed the theme of unity by Yeats’s action of returning to Ireland and reconciling with the middle classes. This happened when he realized that the middle classes were behind the rebellion. He used the word ‘our’ in both poems, which also revealed a strong idea of unity. Yeats used different tones in these poems because they were written in three different stages of his career. “To Ireland in the Coming Times” was written in 1896 during the early stage of Yeats’s career. He created a sentimental and nostalgic mood when he wrote, “Ah, faeries, dancing under the moon, / A Druid land, a Druid tune!” (Finneran 50). In his mind, Ireland was an idyllic, enchanted place. By mentioning druids, he was honouring Ireland’s past. Elsewhere, he said, “Nor be I any less of them, / Because the red-rose-bordered hem” (Finneran 50). Yeats was upset about the war in Ireland and the death of the nationalists. In this poem, he thought that Ireland was a glorious and romantic land. However, after the war of Irish Independence, the beauty was stained with blood. Yeats’s task was to recapture Ireland’s glory. “September 1913” was written in the year 1913 during the war of Irish Independence. He changed his mood from sentimental to resentful and pessimistic, since the Roman Catholic middle classes had done nothing to protect their country. Yeats resented their attitudes towards the country, which made Yeats resent them as a whole. He expressed his thought through this poem and by leaving Ireland to show his dissatisfaction. In 1916, Yeats returned to Ireland because he acknowledged that the middle classes had Irish honour. In previous poems, Yeats mentioned the names of freedom fighters in order to define the idea of Irish honour. In “Easter 1916,” Yeats named the middle classes heroes who fought in the Easter rebellion. By doing so, he symbolically included them in Irish history. The poem was a retraction of “September.” (Abrams 1946) The mood in this poem was harmonic and he apologized in the poem by saying: Polite meaningless words And thought before I had done Of a mocking tale or a gibe To please a companion (Finneran 180) These lines reveal his regret about misjudging them. Moreover, there was a high cost to find out that truth. Thus, the mood was bittersweet, “All changed, changed utterly / A terrible beauty is born” (Finneran 180). Throughout the poem, Yeats hinted that the war between the British and Irish would continue. However, he suggested that although Ireland would be the eventual victor in the battle, many Irish people would sacrifice their lives during the war. Therefore, he reminded the audience that there was a terrible

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