Themes in Yeats’ poetry
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 (although some of them are from poems outside the current OCR selection for AS Level). 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...
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