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Easter 1916 - WB Yeats

A thorough analysis of the poem, Easter 1916, by William Butler Yeats.
by

W Tiel

on 1 June 2016

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Transcript of Easter 1916 - WB Yeats

Easter 1916
By: William Butler Yeats
I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
II

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse.
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vain-glorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
III

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter, seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute change.
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim;
And a horse plashes within it
Where long-legged moor-hens dive
And hens to moor-cocks call.
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.
IV

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,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death.
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.


“Easter 1916” Is a poem written by William Butler Yeats, as a response to the uprising in Ireland against the British on the Easter Monday in 1916. It is a poem consisting of 4 stanzas, in which every stanza but the third is written in first person.
William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865 to a chaotic, artistic family. His father, a portrait painter, moved the family to London when Yeats was two, and William spent much of his childhood moving between the cold urban landscape of the metropolis and the congenial countryside of County Sligo, Ireland, where his mother’s parents lived. He started writing at a young age, first published in 1885.
In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yeats wrote several more influential works after receiving this honor, including The Tower (1928) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932). Yeats died in 1939. He is remembered as one of the most significant modern poets of all time.
Easter 1916 is best looked at with a New historicism lens. The events and the people in the poem are all historical, and without prior knowledge of the Irish revolution of 1916, it is almost impossible to interpret or understand. Knowledge that is also needed for understanding this poem is of England’s colonial ruling of Ireland, and the pressures and problems the English had caused for the Irish throughout history.
Type of Poem
Biography
Critical lens
EaSTER 1916
Context

funny story, insulting
or mocking remarks
clothing made up of a variety
of colours (archaic)
with a high pitch
rode on a horse during a hunt for rabbits (but symbolises rich beauty)
He = Padraic Pearse:
Like the Countess, PP was one of the leaders of the Easter Uprising in Ireland. He was the founder of a boys' school in Dublin and he was also a poet. Yeats throws in the mention of the "winged horse" because this mythical beast (or Pegasus) was the official animal of the poet in Greek myth.
probably Thomas MacDonagh, who was a poet and dramatist who also helped with the Uprising.
excessively proud of himself
and aggressive man
Major John MacBride, a man who was once married to Maud Gonne, who just so happens to be the woman Yeats spent most of his life obsessing over.

put under a spell
What / who is this 'living stream'
all these ARE changing - fighters are not
All living things change; all live in the moment,
but the stone = underneath, unchangable, right in the middle of it all.
meaning of 'stone' changes > how?
>> from steadfast people to emotionless hearts after too much tragedy or sacrifice.
It's not for people to say when and how you die; all we can do is mourn and remember those who died
Literally states he's not talking about night, but death. "cut the nonsense". England might still promise independence, so was their death necessary??
Did what they did out of love for Ireland, but wasn't it foolish to love too much? What if they had been thinking clearly?
They have changed, things have changed and those names will be remembered forever when Ireland is mentioned. Both admiration and detachment....
opposed to 'motley' in I
Full transcript