Among School Children, W.B.Yeats

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Segment 1: Introduction to the Poem (3:15)
• Harvard student Zachary Shrier comments on Professor Vendler's teaching. • "Among School Children" is an example of a philosophical poem – a poem that considers some of the questions, or readings of the world asked by philosophers. • The poem names three famous Greek philosophers from the beginning era of philosophy: Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras. • Yeats’ first aim is not to be perfectly clear. The poem is not easy to decipher. Rather, the poem contains the ruminations of a man who has read, thought, written and loved all of his life. • "Among School Children" was written after visiting a Montessori school in Dublin. A sixty-year-old man, a famous poet and a winner of the Nobel Prize, Yeats was asked to visit such institutions to provide encouragement to students. Segment 2: Three Greek Philosophers (6:00)

• Yeats points to three different constructions of the world: • Platonic forms: where nature is only a transient phenomenon. • Aristotle: the philosopher of the natural world, his experiments grounded in scientific objectivity. • Pythagoras: the philosopher of aesthetics, famous for establishing musical ratios and the ideal form of the golden triangle. • These philosophers were preeminent in establishing the philosophy of thought, science and aesthetics. However, Yeats states that while their philosophical ideas might linger, even great luminaries grow old, become objects of ridicule and die. Describing them as old scarecrows, Yeats reflects upon their and his own impermanence. • Another area for Yeats’ contemplation is the arts. Yeats was involved in all the arts: music, dance, theater, poetry, painting and sculpture. He considered them as one art, all attempting to find the perfect Pythagorean aesthetic ratios. • The third area of Yeats’ reflection was his view of himself as a lover. Beset by love for one woman for many years, Yeats describes the intimate feeling when his beloved grants him a vision of the life that she led prior to their meeting. Segment 3: Yeats’ Philosophical Thoughts (6:08)

• According to Plato’s myth of creation, originally everyone was once half of a sphere. The two halves of the sphere either consisted of a male half linked with another male half, a female half linked with a female half, or male/female or female/male divisions. • Upon birth, thought Plato, the sphere is split in two, and the divided parts were thrown into the world, thus explaining the phenomenon of human sexual attraction. • As he looks over the girls in the classroom, his mind wanders, and he wonders how his beloved looked at that youthful age. • The poem is also about labor, referring to Adam’s curse of having to earn his livelihood and Eve’s curse of having to endure the pain of childbirth. He also despairs at the length of the learning process. Segment 4: Reading of Stanzas I through IV (9:23)

• The first four stations or stanzas of the poem begin with Roman numerals, informing the reader that the poem will appear in stages, seemingly starting anew after each stanza. • The poem, following octava rima form, has eight stanzas, with each stanza consisting of eight lines of verse. Each stanza contains a unit of six lines followed by a unit of two lines, giving the poem an ABABABCC form. I

I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading-books and history,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way - the children's eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.
I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
Above a sinking fire. A tale that she
Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
That changed some childish day to tragedy -
Told, and it seemed that our two natures...
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