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An Irish Airman Foresees his Death - W.B. Yeats
Transcript of An Irish Airman Foresees his Death - W.B. Yeats
What is this poem about?
An Irish Airman realises that he is soon to die.
He rejects the traditional views of war and sees his actions instead as an expression of romantic individualism.
This poem is written in memory of Lady Gregory's son, Robert Gregory, who was an Irish Airman who died in the first world war.
Yeats expressed a dislike for war poetry, remarking that 'passive suffering is not a theme for poetry'. Therefore we can see in this poem that Yeats is transforming Major Gregory from a victim of war top an idealised, controlled hero.
This poem was published in
The Wild Swans at Coole
in 1919 after WWI.
'Kiltartan Cross' is a village near Coole Park Estate where Lady Gregory lived. This emphasises that there is no common or public motivation for fighting, and that the airman has a sense of regional rather than national identity. (He is fighting for the people he knows.)
How is the poem structured?
What is the language and form of the first Quatrain?
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
What is the language and form of the second Quatrain?
What is the language and form of the third Quatrain?
What is the language and form of the final Quatrain?
What are the themes in this poem?
Other Poem Links and Further Reading:
Ms Dempster has made a very good and detailed video on this poem. Check it out on You Tube.
Remember to look at your cream booklets as this has some interesting interpretations of the poem and has some useful contextual information.
The Student Intranet will have some good resources about Yeats and the poem.
SparkNotes has a very brief summary of the poem.
Lots of detail on Shmoop so if you want to know more, (especially with contextual analysis), this is a great site.
There are many more good Prezi's on the poem which you may like to explore as well.
This poem is only made up of two sentences which are perfectly split between the four quatrains.
Octosyllabic line structure (eight syllables per line). The alternate full rhyme scheme and iambic stress on every other word: (I
;) creates a sense of curious, logical, and calm composure (control), highlighting that the Airman is having clear, rational thoughts before his death (acceptance of his fate).
Iambic Tetrameter throughout the whole poem.
The balance of the poem could show the balanced, rational thoughts of the Airman, or the balance and skill needed for flying.
The iambic stress on 'know', 'I', 'meet', and 'fate', and the monsyllables of the first line highlights the Airman's calm acceptance and certainty of his inevitable death.
The first person narrative generates a sense of immediacy which allows the reader to form a relationship with the Airman.
Soft sibbilant sounds in the second line: 'S
among the cloud
' also generates a concept of a calm acceptance of death.
'among' and 'above' - The airman has a sense of transcendence above humans. We get the idea of superiority and that he is looking down upon the ruined world from the calm and relaxing sphere of the clouds.
Clarity of voice due to parallel phrasing on the third and fourth lines. The reader understands that this airman is acute in his intelligence, and that he doesn't fight for the propaganda etc. , but for a romantic gesture of heroic independence. The airman is idealised in this poem.
How can we interpret these readings? AO3
Reading 1 - BBC 4 Documentary (Arrows of Desire)
Calm and relaxed tone.
Very slow pace - the poet is in control of the poem.
Reading 2 - Shane MacGowan
Fast pace could show a sense of urgency and fear.
Haste, concern, worry.
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath;
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
Repetition of 'Kiltartan' symbolises the Airman's sense of regional identity. The reader imagines that this airman is fighting for those he loves, and not just because he had to: once again he is idealised in this poem.
There is a contrast to the previous quatrain, as before the airman is seen as transcending above humans, however here he sees himself as in-line with 'Kiltartan's Poor', showing that he sees himself as equals with those that he knows and loves, and is fighting for them so that they can experience better lives in the future.
List of dismissal with the repetition of 'nor', showing that the Airman is rejecting the false motivations and collective delusions of war.
He desribes war as 'lonely', and that war is very personal: He dismisses the public motives for war, and concentrates on the personal 'lonely impulse' that makes people want to fight. (Rejecting the conventions of a 'collective war.' - Could be seen as un-patriotic.
Yeats could be making an anti-war statement here. he is known to dislike war poetry, so he is portraying the airman as an idealised hero who thinks for himself and for others, rather than just following and being spurred on by the 'cheering crowds'.
Yeats famously said that 'Passive suffering is not a theme for poetry', so by making the airman reject the 'crowds', 'law' and 'duty', he is effectively making it the Airman's choice to die: he is going to war on his own terms which means that he is responsible for his own death.
The elongated vowel sounds of 'a lonely impulse of delight' adds to the airman's joy of being in the clouds and the personal joy of fighting and flying. (Personal triumph and satisfaction.)
'tumult' - A loud confused noise. Enjambment as the calm and seemingly relaxing clouds are becoming noisy and threatening, - Idea that war is wrong as it kills humans and nature.
Repetition of 'balanced'. The airman is weighing up his outcomes and is thinking rationally about war and death.
The 14th and 15th lines portray a dismissal of the past and future. the airman is living in the present and he understands his imminent fate.
Chiasmus (Pronounced Ke-as-mus) - The syntax of lines 14 and 15 are reversed to express the reflective thoughts of the airman during his final moments.
Repetition of 'this' represents a noble and clear acceptance of death. (A calm reflection before death).
The airman is 'balanc[ing]' his thoughts - he is weighing up the outcomes of life and death.
The airman could be an idealised hero (he doesn't mind life or death and he is fighting on his own terms), however he could also be read as a mindless victim (too busy thinking about war and trying to seem the hero that he ultimately comes to his demise).
Links: The Fisherman - An idealised character and a similar rhyming pattern.
The Wild Swans at Coole - The poem is based at Coole Park.
1.What reasons are given in this poem for the Airman's entry into the war?
2.Is the speaker heroic in your opinion? Why or why not?
3.What emotions do you find in this poem? What words help to convey them?
4.What is the purpose of location detail in the poem?
5.How is Yeats' voice conveyed in this poem?
6.How does this poem compare to the one that you studied?
Can you think of any more themes?