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Relevant BackgroundThemesPoetic Technique | Imagery

William Butler Yeats [1865-1939]

Relevant Background

  • WB Yeats was born in 1865 in Dublin. His parents were John Butler Yeats, a portrait painter, and Susan Pollexfen. His family was upper class, Protestant and of Anglo-Irish descent. His ancestors were church rectors.
  • The Yeats family had aspirations to maintain its wealth and traditions and this shaped WB Yeats and his poetry.
  • At the age of two, Yeats moved with his family to London, where they remained for Yeat’s childhood. He developed an affinity with Sligo because he spent a lot of summers with his mother’s family there. At the age of sixteen, Yeat’s family moved back to Dublin.
  • Yeats was born into a family context that respected culture and art. Besides his father being an artist, his brother Jack B. Yeats became Ireland’s most famous painter. Yeats received tuition at the School of Art in Dublin from 1884 to 1886. There he gained an interest in mysticism and the supernatural.
  • As he reached manhood, much of his education consisted of private tuition and reading. This accounts for the extreme individualism found in his poetry.
  • He became interested in Hinduism and the occult. During his life, he developed interests in theosophy, ancient civilisations, psychic power, spiritualism, magic, eastern religions and the supernatural. He sought symbols for his poetry in these topics. These symbols account for the difficulty of some of his poetry, especially his later work.
  • He became a supporter of Irish Nationalism because of his friendship with John O'Leary, a Fenian, and Maud Gonne, a keen Irish Nationalist.
  • He built up a relationship with Maud through theatre work and developed a futile life-long love for her. Maud was unusually beautiful. He expressed his frustrated love for Maud indirectly in many of his poems, often through an image of a woman with yellow hair.
  • Yeats frequently proposed marriage to Maud but was rejected every time.
  • In 1903 Maud Gonne married the Irish Nationalist, Major John MacBride who was executed in 1916 following the Easter Rising. This marriage caused Yeats to become bitter at Mc Bride and Gonne over his unrequited love for her.
  • Yeats befriended an aristocratic benefactor, Lady Gregory, in 1896 on a visit to Coole Park in Galway. Lady Gregory, a nationalist playwright, became Yeats’ assistant and mentor in publishing his poetry and founding the Abbey Theatre.
  • Drama and Literature served Yeats as a cultural vehicle to express his views; in Yeats early years, culture transcended politics. The Abbey Theatre produced plays by Yeats and new writers like John Millington Synge.
  • The Abbey Theatre, which briefly became a cultural and political influence like Yeats had dreamed, suffered major criticism from its nationalist Catholic audience. A narrow-minded reaction to the Abbey's production of Synge's ‘Playboy of the Western World’ (1907) closed down the theatre. Yeats grew disillusioned with the ignorance and conservative cultural attitudes of Dubliners. His writings expressed his disenchantment.
  • Yeats' early work reflects three themes: nature, the struggle for Irish independence, and his unrequited love for Maud Gonne.
  • Up to about 1909 Yeats involved himself in the Anglo-Irish Literary Revival when he wrote plays and lyrical, symbolic poems on the myths, folk tales and legends of the Celtic era. He depicted soft focus or pastoral rural settings. He saw poetry both as art and as a form of escapism. ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ (1893) provides evidence of his escapist tendency.
  • Then came the so-called mature and realistic phase of poetry, in which his poems were influenced by his diverse studies, Irish society, Irish rebellion, nationalism and the quest for Irish independence. Maud Gonne, although married to Major John Mc Bride, remained an influence. Yeats eventual acceptance of the role of politics in society was indicated by the poem ‘Easter 1916’.
  • In 1917 Yeats married Georgie Hyde-Lees. She claimed to write under the guidance of spirits, a gift known as automatic writing. Yeats used her spiritual writing as material for his theories and poetry.
  • With her help, he wrote ‘A Vision’, an unusual philosophical work about mysticism and his bizarre concept of cycles of history. The book helped to explain the obscure symbolism of his later works. It presented the dualities often expressed in his later poetry: objectivity and subjectivity, art and life, soul and body.
  • Following the founding of the Free State, Yeats became a senator. He turned to practical politics, serving in the Senate of the new Irish Free State from 1922 to 1928.
  • WB Yeats’ final phase, old age, contains a lot of self-critical and ironical poetry. He criticised his body and his life as well as his poetic craft.
  • In 1923, he received the Nobel Prize for literature.
  • Yeats experienced various illnesses in the last 15 years of his life but he composed poetry until he died in 1939. Yeats died in France and was buried in Sligo.

Themes

You can find many themes in Yeats’ poetry. Pick what suits your own study from the themes, comments and quotes listed below. There are 86 quotes used to illustrate themes on this page. You will need only a short selection of these.

1. The theme of death or old age and what it leaves behind.

Death of Patriotism, leaving selfishness as the norm:
‘Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
 It's with O'Leary in the grave’ [September 1913]

Death as useless sacrifice, Home Rule might be granted:
‘Was it needless death after all?
 For England may keep faith
 For all that is done and said’ [Easter 1916] 

 A man in old age alienated vibrant youthfulness:
‘The young in one another's arms, birds in the trees
 - Those dying generations - at their song’  [Sailing to Byzantium]

Death of innocence:
‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned’ [Second Coming]

The self in old age, forsaken by beauty:
‘when I awake some day to find they have flown away’ [Wild Swans]

Death chosen out of a sense of despair:
‘A waste of breath the years behind, in balance with this life, this death’ [Airman]

Death and destruction during civil war:
‘A man is killed, or a house burned … the empty house…’ [Stare’s Nest]

Demise of the Aristocracy and despair at the vanity of human grandeur:
‘We the great gazebo built’ [Memory]

Old age and the remnants of a confined life:
‘Picture and book remain’ [Acre]

In old age, contempt for the present, defiant admiration for ancestry:
‘Cast your mind on other days
That we in coming days may be
Still the indomitable Irishry’  [Under Ben Bulben]

Facing death with contempt for overstated ceremony:
‘No marble, no conventional phrase’ [Under Ben Bulben]

Death provides a sanctuary from conflict and hatred:
‘Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his breast’ [Swift’s Epitaph]


2. The theme of disintegration, chaos, sudden change:

‘They have gone about the world like wind’  [September 1913]

‘scatter wheeling in great broken rings
 Upon their clamorous wings’ [Wild Swans]

‘I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed’ [Wild Swans]

‘this tumult in the clouds’ [Airman]

‘All changed, changed utterly:
 A terrible beauty is born’  [Easter 1916]

‘Enchanted to a stone
 To trouble the living stream’ [Easter 1916]

‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
 Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’ [Second Coming]

‘Consume my heart away; sick with desire
 And fastened to a dying animal
 It knows not what it is’  [Sailing to Byzantium]

‘A man is killed, or a house burned,
 Yet no clear fact to be discerned’ [Stare’s Nest]


3. Yeats poetry explored nature under four headings:

Transience in nature’s beauty:
‘A shadow of cloud on the stream
 Changes minute by minute’ [Easter 1916]

‘By what lake's edge or pool
 Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
 To find they have flown away?’ [Wild Swans]

‘The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
 Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
 Whatever is begotten, born, and dies’ [Sailing to Byzantium]

‘But a raving autumn shears
 Blossom from the summer's wreath’  [Memories]

Paradoxically, Yeats saw nature as immortal in comparison to humans:
‘Their hearts have not grown old;
 Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
 Attend upon them still.’ [Wild Swans]

The radiance of nature’s beauty:
‘I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;’ [Inisfree]

‘The trees are in their autumn beauty,
 The woodland paths are dry,
 Under the October twilight the water
 Mirrors a still sky’  [Wild Swans]

‘The long-legged moor-hens dive,
 And hens to moor-cocks call’ [Easter]
 
‘An acre of green grass
 For air and exercise’ [Acre]

The unattractive side of nature:
‘The bees build in the crevices
 Of loosening masonry, and there
 The mother birds bring grubs and flies’  [Stare]

‘while all about it
 Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds’ [Second Coming]


4. Yeats explored the theme of immortality in various spheres.
You can contrast the following quotes and issues with the many quotes and references to mortality highlighted in the quotes for themes one, two and three above.

Politics—in a paradoxical way the Rising has changed politics and this force for change has become an immortal and steadfast national symbol:
‘Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born’ [Easter 1916]
 
Natural beauty—the swans as a species are ageless in comparison to Yeats:
‘Their hearts have not grown old;
 Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
 Attend upon them still.’ [Wild Swans]

The cycles of history [perpetually repeating millennial patterns]:
‘And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
 Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’ [Second Coming]

The soul and art transcend time:
‘Once out of nature I shall never take
 My bodily form from any natural thing,
 But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
to sing… Of what is past, or passing, or to come’ [Sailing to Byzantium]


5. The quest for truth is fundamental, whether experienced through the emotional self, reason, imagination or at the expense of sanity.

Intuitive truth:
‘I hear it in the deep heart's core’ [Inisfree]

The pursuit of national ideals at the cost of public ridicule:
‘“Some woman's yellow hair
 Has maddened every mother's son”:
 They weighed so lightly what they gave’ [September 1913]

Pursuit of beauty and truth by a questioning spirit:
‘Among what rushes will they build,
 By what lake's edge or pool
 Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
 To find they have flown away?’ [Wild Swans]

Truth believed in by political fanatics:
‘Hearts with one purpose alone
 Through summer and winter seem
 Enchanted to a stone’ [Easter 1916]

Truth that is fanatical and yet unemotional:
‘Too long a sacrifice
 Can make a stone of the heart’ [Easter 1916]

Truth that is emotional, imaginative and philosophical:
‘A lonely impulse of delight
 Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
 I balanced all, brought all to mind’ [Irish Airman]

Truth that is prophetic and yet based on historical cycles:
‘Surely some revelation is at hand;
 Surely the Second Coming is at hand’ [Second Coming]

Cold, rational analysis of falsehood leading to the truth:
‘We had fed the heart on fantasies,
 The heart's grown brutal from the fare;
 More Substance in our enmities
 Than in our love’ [Stare]

Truth attained through educating the imagination with art:
‘Nor is there singing school but studying
 Monuments of its own magnificence’ [Sailing to Byzantium]

Truth that is philosophical, the wisdom of old age:
 ‘Dear shadows, now you know it all,
 All the folly of a fight
 With a common wrong or right.
 The innocent and the beautiful.
 Have no enemy but time’ [Memories] 

Truth that eludes reason and imagination:
‘Neither loose imagination,
 Nor the mill of the mind
 Consuming its rag and bone,
 Can make the truth known’ [Acre]

Contrast between a passionate confession and political truths:
‘And maybe what they say is true
 Of war and war's alarms,
 But O that I were young again
 And held her in my arms’ [Politics]

Truth that is sentimental, defiant, emotional:
 ‘Cast your mind on other days
 That we in coming days may be
 Still the indomitable Irishry’ [Ben Bulben]


6. Yeats had various visions of the model Irish society.

Primitive, Celtic, peasant and rural:
 ‘I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
 And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made’ [Inisfree]

Romantic, patriotic and heroic:
 ‘Yet they were of a different kind,
 The names that stilled your childish play,
 They have gone about the world like wind’ [September 1913]

Pastoral and aesthetic:
‘But now they drift on the still water,
 Mysterious, beautiful’ [Wild Swans]

Comely and simple:
 ‘My county is Kiltartan Cross,
 My countrymen Kiltartan's poor’ [Irish Airman]

Aristocratic, classical and youthful:
 ‘and speak of that old Georgian mansion, … recall
 That table and the talk of youth,
 Two girls in silk kimonos, both
 Beautiful, one a gazelle’ [Memories]

Heroic, feudal and ancestral:
 ‘Sing the peasantry, and then
 Hard-riding country gentlemen,
 The holiness of monks, and after
 Porter-drinkers' randy laughter;
 Sing the lords and ladies gay
 That were beaten into the clay
 Through seven heroic centuries;
 Cast your mind on other days
 That we in coming days may be
 Still the indomitable Irishry’  [Under Ben Bulben’s Head]


7. Yeats explored conflicting dualities, often counterbalancing the ideal and the real:

The beauty of nature versus the sombre monotony of city existence:
‘I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
 While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey’ [Inisfree]

The meanness of municipal policy versus the generosity of patriots:
‘For men were born to pray and save:
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone’  [September 1913]

Mortality of the self versus immortality of the swan species: 
‘And now my heart is sore…
Their hearts have not grown old’  [Wild Swans]

Major Robert Gregory’s ambiguous approach to fighting for his country; this involves inversion of emotion:
‘Those that I fight I do not hate,
 Those that I guard I do not love’ [Irish Airman]

The immortality of political heroes versus the fickleness of politics:
‘Yet they were of a different kind,
 The names that stilled your childish play’ [September 1913]

 ‘Yet I number him in the song;
 He, too, has resigned his part
 In the casual comedy’  [Easter 1916]

The inversion of the relationship between commitment and morality:
 ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst
 Are full of passionate intensity’  [Second Coming]

Soul versus Body and Nature versus Art:
‘O sages …be the singing-masters of my soul.
 Consume my heart away…
 Once out of nature I shall never take
 My bodily form from any natural thing’  [Sailing to Byzantium]

Love versus hatred, moral inversion:
‘More substance in our enmities
Than in our love’  [Stare]

Time versus beauty:
‘But a raving autumn shears
 Blossom from the summer's wreath…
The innocent and the beautiful
Have no enemy but time’  [Memories]

Love versus politics as a shaper of human destiny:
‘How can I, that girl standing there,
 My attention fix
 On Roman or on Russian
 Or on Spanish politics’ [Politics]

The contemporary versus the historical, the plebs versus the aristocracy, the masses versus ancestors:
‘Base-born products of base beds …
Still the indomitable Irishry’  [Under Ben Bulben]

Two contradictory positions on the duality of life and death, one neutral, the other favouring death as a refuge from the stresses of life:
‘Cast a cold eye
 On life, on death’ [Under Ben Bulben]

‘SWIFT has sailed into his rest;
Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his breast’  [Swift’s Epitaph]


8. Yeats made various protests against reality during his life:

Alienation from city life in London:
‘While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey’ [Inishfree]

Despondency at short sighted and self-serving civic attitudes regarding the 1913 lockout and hypocritical religious devotion: 
 ‘ You have dried the marrow from the bone?
For men were born to pray and save:
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave’ [September 1913]

Hurt at disrespect for the memory of political martyrs:
‘You'd cry, “Some woman's yellow hair
 Has maddened every mother's son”:
 They weighed so lightly what they gave’ [September 1913]

Disillusionment at war:
‘Those that I fight I do not hate,
 Those that I guard I do not love;’ [Airman]

Disgust at insincere nationalism, patriotic bluster:
 ‘Being certain that they and I
 But lived where motley is worn…
The casual comedy…’  [Easter 1916]

Criticism of political fanaticism:
‘Too long a sacrifice
 Can make a stone of the heart.’ [Easter 1916]

Disillusion at war, lack of civic responsibility and an apocalyptic spiral:
‘Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity’ [Second Coming]

Disenchantment at materialism, hedonism and neglect of art:
‘Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect’ [Sailing to Byzantium]

Anger at the inhumanity of political ideologies:
 ‘We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart's grown brutal from the fare:
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love’ [Stare]

Rage at the pettiness of national politics:
‘for men were born to pray and save’ [September 1913]
‘Conspiring among the ignorant’ [Memories]

Fierce resistance in old age to the demise of the mind:
‘Grant me an old man's frenzy,
 Myself must I remake’ [Acre]

Mockery of world affairs:
‘How can I, that girl standing there,
 My attention fix
 On Roman or on Russian
 Or on Spanish politics?’ [Politics]

Yeats Fascistic or class hatred against the Irish working class:
‘Scorn the sort now growing up
 All out of shape from toe to top,
 Their unremembering hearts and heads
 Base-born products of base beds’ [Ben Bulben]

Dislike of pompous burials:
‘No marble, no conventional phrase’ [Ben Bulben]

Contempt for materialistic and unthinking people:
‘Imitate him if you dare,
World-besotted traveller’ [Swift]


Poetic Techniques

Yeats used literary techniques such as argument, figurative imagery and language, symbols and reference in his poems. He was a poet of protest and irony. He wanted to reform Irish politics and culture through his art. His poetry is formal, traditional and sweeping in scope. He also used a lot of direct conversational expression. He is a very musical poet, who sought to echo in the elegance of his rhymes, the grandeur of the heroic world he aspired to in his imagery and themes.

Sound Effects
The colour coding for sound repetition is as follows:
Alliteration   
Alliteration
is the repetition of first letters
Assonance 
Assonance
is repetition of vowel sounds.
Internal Rhyme or Cross Rhyme or Conventional (end of line) Rhyme
Internal Rhyme is a word or sound rhyming within a line
Cross Rhyme is a word or sound rhyming across two or more lines
Consonance, including sibilance [or sibilant sounds].
Consonance is repetition of consonant sounds. Sibilance is repetition of ‘s’ sounds
Consonance, Cross Rhyme and Internal Rhyme may incorporate Alliteration and Assonance.
Try to add your own further examples to those below.
If you refer to these techniques when answering on a poet, state their purpose in re-enforcing meaning or creating the language construct that a poem is. Present them as evidence of the poet’s craft. Always argue that the verbal music or sound effects add to the lyrical quality of the images and make the poem an impressive piece of art.

The following are sample analyses that you should try to repeat on other poems:
 The poem ‘The Lake Isle Of Innisfree’ contains abundant sound repetition. Study this analysis of the second stanza. Consider the verbal music created by  two examples of consonance in the middle verse [11 uses of s and 9 uses of l]. Note also the verbal music of the 2 line rhymes [-ings and -ow], the cross-rhymes [2 dropping, and 2 -ing] and the internal rhyme [peace]. Pay attention to the assonance, the short ‘i’ sounds in the third and fourth line [i, i, e, and i,]. The repeated ‘s’ is also called sibilance and it is onomatopoeic because it evokes the soft sound of peace floating down to the tranquil island.
‘And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.’

Word repetition is a striking feature of ‘Easter 1916’. ‘Polite meaningless’ cross-rhymes between lines 6 and 8 of the poem. The word ‘voice’ cross-rhymes between lines 20 and 21. The word ‘stone’ is used three times: in line 43, and as a cross-rhyme between lines 56 and 58. Likewise the word ‘heart’ is used three times: in lines 34, 41 and 58. Likewise the words ‘beauty’ and ‘death’ are repeated. Can you find any other repeated word in ‘Easter 1916’? These repetitions contribute to the musical aspect of the poem—it is not a political manifesto or a philosophical tract. Verbal music is what makes it a poem.
There is a recurring four-line unit of line rhyme based on the pattern abab:
‘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…’
Note the alternate line rhyming [ice and art]. The poem can be divided into rhyming quartets that follow this pattern abab.
Note the internal rhyme [part]. A cross-rhyme is achieved by the repeating long ‘ma’ sound.
Note how the alliteration [s] links the key words. Thus verbal music reinforces meaning. In the image, sacrifice numbs emotional life. The question asks, when is there enough sacrifice? 
The musical effect is strengthened by the 6 sibilant sounds of the four lines [s,ce,s,s,ce,s]. Five of these have already been coded for alliteration and rhyme. There is also a striking assonance in these lines involving seven repetitions of a short ‘a’ sound. That assonance pattern involves some vowels already coded for rhyme [a,a,a,ea,a,a,a].
You can find your own sound effects in any rhyming quartet that you choose from the poem. It is easy for you to prove that music is central to the communication process of the poem. If you do this type of analysis as part of an answer, you are proving that the poem is an impressive language construct, with verbal music.
For instance the next line after the four analysed above contains the internal rhymes ‘mur’ and ‘name’. Continue.
You should connect the sound effects to the concept or image of ‘beauty’ that the poet builds up to at the end of the first, second and final verse paragraph.
 
In ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ Yeats carefully crafts the verbal music. Note the line rhyming pattern of this stanza:

O sages standing in God's holy fire
 As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
 Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
 And be the singing-masters of my soul.
 Consume my heart away; sick with desire
 And fastened to a dying animal
 It knows not what it is; and gather me
 Into the artifice of eternity.’

Have you spotted the pattern? Remember that it is the sound and not the spelling that creates rhyme. In the four stanzas of the poem, the pattern is abababcc. Note that alternate lines rhyme until the final rhyming couplet. Note that the pattern contains syllable rhyme [ire], consonant rhyme [l] and vowel rhyme [e].
Have you noted the way the word ‘fire’ in the third line cross-rhymes with ‘fire’ in the first line and achieves an internal rhyme with  ‘yre’ in the third line?
Have you spotted the assonance yet? Note the seven long ‘o’ sounds in the stanza, four in the first two lines. Note also the 5 sibilant sounds of the first two lines, the 4 sibilant sounds of the fourth line and the 16 sibilant sounds in total in the stanza.
Have you spotted the 19 ‘t’ sounds? Ten of them occur in the last two lines. This consonance adds to the verbal music:
‘O sages standing in God's holy fire
 As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
 Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
 And be the singing-masters of my soul.
 Consume my heart away; sick with desire
 And fastened to a dying animal
 It knows not what it is; and gather me
 Into the artifice of eternity.’

The nine related ‘d’ sounds reinforce the predominance of this sound effect in the stanza.
Add any other sound effects you can find in the stanza.
You can argue that the intricate sound pattern of the poem, as illustrated in this stanza, supports the imagery of singing that is referred to many times throughout the poem: birds singing in the trees, sensual music, soul singing, singing school, singing masters, and golden birds that sing.
Always argue that the verbal music or sound effects add to the lyrical quality of the images and make the poem an impressive piece of art.

There are many detailed examples of sound techniques illustrated in The Lake Isle of Innisfree, The Stare's Nest and Politics on the Ordinary Level English web pages.

Rhyme
All of Yeats’ poems have a definite rhyming pattern. Read the sound effects notes  on ‘Easter 1916’ and ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ for an analysis. Read the rhyme section of The Lake Isle of Innisfree, The Stare's Nest and Politics on the Ordinary Level English web pages.
Here is one more example. In the poem ‘In Memory Of Eva Gore-Booth And Con Markiewicz’ the grandeur of the Anglo Irish House and the harmony of its traditional way of life is captured in the rhyming scheme:
abba cddc effe ghhg abba abba ijji kllk
The lines are grouped into rhyming units of four; the thirty-two lines contain eight rhyming quartets. The first/fourth and the second/third of each quartet rhyme. A perfectionist could argue that some of the rhymes are half rhymes. Arguably, half rhymes are indicative of the decay of the former glory of the Georgian Mansion. Further harmony is provided by the way the opening quartet has the same rhyme as the closing quartet of the first verse paragraph. The second verse paragraph commences with a rhyming quartet that is almost identical, except that the ‘o’ vowel of ‘oth’ is replaced by the ‘i’ vowel in the similar sounding ‘ight’. Thus the intricate rhyming scheme achieves a grandeur that mirrors the beauty of the gazelle like creatures that inhabit the magnificent Georgian Mansion.

Rhythm
Yeats adhered to traditional rhythms in composing his poetry.

Many of the poems on the course contain lines of three beats known as trimeter:
‘The light… of evening… Lissadell’ [Memories]

Other poems have a regular four beat rhythm:
‘For men… were born… to pray… and save’  [September 1913]

‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ had alternate four beat and three beat lines:
‘Under…the October…twilight…the water
 Mirrors…a still…sky’

If you wish to make a comment on rhythm, link it to verbal music. Yeat’s rhythms are traditional and provide a suitable beat for his intricate verbal music effects. The traditional rhythms lend a formality and grandeur to Yeats’ verse. Traditional rhythms, as well as traditional formal rhyme, enable the verbal music to echo Yeat’s reverence for the past as revealed in his imagery and subject matter.

Tone
Many of Yeats poems include an element of melancholy or regret. Disillusionment and anger are common tones in his poems. Irony is a consistent ingredient of his poems.
Return to the theme section and read back over theme 8 for fifteen examples of tone in Yeat’s language. The theme descriptions in theme 8 above are expressed in language appropriate to tone, such as anger, disillusion etc.
Here are some more examples of tone:
Mellow and dreamy: ‘for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings’ [Inisfree]
Condescending and derogatory:  
‘That woman's days were spent in ignorant good-will’ [Easter 1916]
Respectful: ‘A terrible beauty is born’  [Easter 1916]
Dismayed: ‘The blood-dimmed tide is loosed’ [Second Coming]
Judgmental: ‘The best lack all conviction’  [Second Coming]
Ironical: ‘birds in the trees
 - Those dying generations - at their song’ [Sailing to Byzantium]
Beseeching and earnest:
‘gather me into the artifice of eternity’ [Sailing to Byzantium]
Detached: ‘to sing…Of what is past, or passing, or to come’ [Sailing to B]
Scornful and sarcastic: ‘What need you, being come to sense,
 But fumble in a greasy till’ [September 1913]
Ironic: ‘For men were born to pray and save’ [September 1913]
Melancholic or nostalgic: ‘ now my heart is sore. All's changed’ [Wild Swans]
Awed: ‘Mysterious, beautiful’ [Wild Swans]
Contemptuous: ‘A waste of breath’ [Airman]
Forlorn and sorrowful: ‘When withered old and skeleton-gaunt’ [Memories]
Ironical: ‘Utopia’ [Memories]
Determined and manic: ‘Grant me an old man's frenzy’ [Acre]
Mocking and contemptuous: ‘Base-born products of base beds’ [Ben Bulben]
Hateful and scornful: ‘and after Porter-drinkers' randy laughter’ [Ben Bulben] 
Unemotional and impassive: ‘Cast a cold eye on life, on death’ [Ben Bulben]
Sarcastic and taunting: ‘Imitate him if you dare’  [Swift’s Epitaph]


Imagery

Contradiction, balance and contrast are central to Yeats’ imagery.
Contrast is particularly evident in ‘Easter 1916’.
In ‘Easter 1916’ the contrast between costume imagery and nature imagery is striking. The word ‘motley’ is used with disapproval. It conveys that Yeats had thought the republican leaders were like clowns acting out a role in a ‘casual comedy’ in ‘polite meaningless words’. The use of the stream, horse, stone, fowl etc. is refreshing and seems to serve as an analogy for the heroic actions of the leaders of the Rising. The stream also serves as an analogy for time. As a contrast to the casual comedy, Yeats suggests meaningful tragedy, ‘a terrible beauty’, has been enacted. This phrase is an oxymoron. Perhaps he means that both glory and terror have become commingled in the Rising and its aftermath. There is a contrast between the solid, steadfast, stone and the fluid, changing river. Unemotional, but committed men have created a huge emotional effect. The dispassionate public figures have moved the public.

For a detailed analysis of Yeat’s imagery in three of his poems read The Lake Isle of Innisfree, The Stare's Nest and Politics on the Ordinary Level English web pages.
 
Certain images recur in Yeats’ poems.
Recurring images of ‘stone’ in Yeats’ poetry:
As a descriptive image:
‘Upon the brimming water among the stones’ [Wild Swans]
‘A barricade of stone or of wood’ [Stare]
‘On limestone quarried near the spot’ [Ben Bulben]
As a metaphor:
‘Enchanted to a stone…
The stone's in the midst of all…
a stone of the heart’ [Easter 1916]
‘twenty centuries of stony sleep’ [Second Coming]
‘Stone’ seems to mean something impassive and steadfast that can catalyse change.

Recurring images of ‘water’ in Yeats’ poetry:
As a descriptive image:
There are three occurrences in ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ and one in ‘Innisfree’. Water is implied in the two metaphorical references to the stream in ‘Easter 1916’, in one reference to streams in ‘Wild Swans’ and in single references to lake in ‘Innisfree’ and ‘Wild Swans’.
‘Water’ seems to imply purity or the medium of time.

Recurring images of ‘heart’ in Yeats’ poetry.
It occurs as a metaphor for emotions or the inner self once in each of  ‘Inisfree’, ‘Under Ben Bulben’,  ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and ‘The Stare’s nest’, twice in ‘Wild Swans’ and ‘The Stare’s Nest’, three times in ‘Easter 1916’.

Find more recurring images yourself. There are four references to birds, and at least one indirect bird reference. Can you find them? For example, how many direct or indirect references can you find to the big house, to the primitive life of peasants etc.?
 
Metaphor:
‘delirium of the brave’ [September 1916]
‘can make a stone of the heart’  [Easter 1916]
‘The blood-dimmed tide is loosed’ [Second Coming]
‘bell-beat of their wings’ [Wild Swans]
‘And scatter wheeling in great broken rings’ [Wild Swans]
‘A tattered coat upon a stick’ [Sailing to Byzantium]
‘the mill of the mind’ [Acre]
‘But a raving autumn shears
Blossom from the summer's wreath’  [In Memory]

Conceit:
[This is an elaborate comparison and metaphor where some concrete object or process is used to illustrate an abstract reality, be it spiritual, emotional or philosophical]
‘A tattered coat upon a stick…every tatter in its mortal dress’ [Sailing].
In this conceit, old age is compared to a scarecrow, the aging of the human body to a ragged dress.
In the same poem, ‘sensual music’ is a conceit that compares the hedonistic joys of youth to music of the senses. The word ‘fastened’ denotes in a physical sense the spiritual connection of the soul to the body.

Symbol:
‘a greasy till’ in ‘September 1913’ represents the mean policies of the merchant classes and portrays them as misers.
‘Kiltartan's poor’ [Airman] are the both a real peasant community known to Major Gregory, but also symbolise how the peasant class in general don’t benefit from war.
‘Loosening masonry’  [Stare] refers to Thor Ballylee, but also symbolises the demise of the great Anglo Irish House.
A ‘gazelle’ [Memories] is a symbol for youth and beauty.
‘Winged horse’ [Easter 1916] is deliberately used as a satirical symbol of the bloated and melodramatic poetry written by Pearse.

Analogy:
[An analogy is a simile or metaphor that functions as a parallel image]
‘‘…wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide’ [September 1913]. This comparison of patriots to migrating geese can also be considered a metaphor as well as an analogy. The link with geese points to the forced departure of Sarsfield and Co..

Yeats uses a double analogy in ‘An Acre of Grass’ to represent faded mental activity:
‘the mill of the mind consuming its rag and bone’.
 ‘Mill’ represents the brainstorm of  producing phrases, ‘rag and bone’ represent the ordinary fare of life that the active brain can transform into aesthetic beauty.

Simile:
‘as a mother names her child’ [Easter 1916]
‘blank and pitiless as the sun’ [Second Coming]
‘They have gone about the world like wind’ [September 1913]
 
Apostrophe [direct address]:
‘Irish poets, earn your trade’ [Under Ben Bulben]
‘What need you, being come to sense’ [September 1913]
 
Paradox [apparent contradiction]
‘Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love’ [Irish Airman]
‘Blossom from the summer's wreath’ [Memories]

Logic (argument).
Yeats communicates by direct statement as well as by imagery and symbol. Some poems like ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ depend a lot on our ability to interpret the figurative language. But some lines contain a statement or argument that points to the theme and help us understand the imagery. Thus the opening line contains the argument of the first stanza and enables us to understand all the difficult imagery that follows:
‘That is no country for old men’.
The aesthetic and figurative language of the second and third stanzas can be explained in the light of statements like ‘An aged man is but a paltry thing’. The emperor’s palace with its ‘golden bough’ is the ‘artifice of eternity’.
Another example of logical statement occurs in the following quote. This quote helps us to understand what drives Yeats, the person.
‘Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still’ [Wild Swans]
In the lyric ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his Death’ the speaker argues the theme of the poem in logical English. The language is less aesthetic than ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and is informative and argumentative:
‘The years to come seemed waste of breath,
 A waste of breath the years behind’.
Thus you can argue and illustrate that one of the appealing qualities of Yeats is the clarity of his many logical statements. They help the reader understand the meaning of his imagery and symbols.

In addition to various techniques of sound, tone and imagery, there are many examples of different language techniques found in Yeats poetry.

Pun (wordplay):
‘But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!’
[In ‘Politics’  ‘arms’ playfully links to ‘war’ as well as a lover]

Compound Words:
‘blood-dimmed’ [Second Coming]
‘mackerel-crowded’ [Sailing to Byzantium]

Aphorism:
‘More substance in our enmities
Than in our love’  [Stare]
‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’.[Second Coming]

Hyperbole (exaggeration):
‘For whom the hangman's rope was spun’ [September 1916] is an example of exaggerated imagery for dramatic effect. So too is ‘fumble in a greasy till’ from the same poem.
‘Withered old and skeleton-gaunt’ [Memories] seems overstated for effect also. But this hyperbole enriches his poetry. Yeats is not prone to understatement.

Reference to people from history:
 John O Leary, Wolf Tone, Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Emmet, MacDonagh, MacBride Connolly, Pearse, Countess Markievicz, Jonathan Swift, William Blake, Michaelangelo, Thomas Mann.
Reference, direct and indirect, to places:
Lisadell, Dublin, Kiltarten, Rome, Spain, London, Ben Bulben, Drumcliff, Innisfree, Byzantium, Bethlehem, Greece, Coole.

Balance [Antithesis]
In the following quote Yeats balances autumn versus summer, blossom versus wreath:
‘But a raving autumn shears
 Blossom from the summer's wreath’ [Memories]
Here are two more examples:
‘Cast a cold eye
 On life, on death’ [Under Ben Bulben]
‘The years to come seemed waste of breath,
 A waste of breath the years behind
 In balance with this life, this death’ [Irish Airman]
Theme 8 above has fourteen examples of balance. There are many more.
Find them yourself.

Language styles:
Yeats mixes his language styles. Despite the magnificence of his imagery, many of his lines resemble ordinary speech. See the note above on logic. The following lines from ‘The Second Coming’ have the simplicity and clarity of everyday English: ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’. This sentence explains the falcon image and enables you to interpret Yeat’s more difficult symbolic language.
In the following quote from ‘An Irish Airman’, the first line is conversational English, while the second line is poetic in word order and has an assonantal effect.
‘I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above’ 
Note the natural eight-monosyllable line followed by a line of two monosyllables and three disyllables. Note the poetic syntax, odd word order, of the second line. The conversational phrase would be ‘up in the clouds somewhere’.
On occasion Yeats used allusion. In ‘The Second Coming’ Yeats alluded to the Book of Revelations of the Bible. This allusion to the book of the apocalypse is repeated in his ‘horseman’ image of ‘Under Ben Bulben’. In ‘The Second Coming’ Yeats may have been alluding to Macbeth’s ‘seas incarnadine’ in the image of ‘The blood-dimmed tide’.

Form:
Yeats used various forms from the rigidly formal, to elegant lyrics, to looser verse paragraphs.

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