The poetry of Yeats gives a deep, profound and though-provoking experience. His sweepingly broad thematic focus deals with issues that are timeless and universal. We realise Yeats both is a very public and a very private poet, his work ranging from the personal and political, to Irish history and his own life experiences and emotions. He grew up in a very transitional time, where a world war and a civil war were both fought. This he captured in words such as ‘September 1913’, ‘Easter 1916’ and ‘The Stares Nest by my Window’. Later in life his preoccupation shifted and his work dealt with his obsession with immortality and the passing of time, until he eventually came to accept the inevitability of death. This is conveyed through ‘Sailing to Byzantium’.
The transitional years 1909-1914 were explored by Yeats in the anthology by ‘Sept 1913’. In this poem Yeats expressed his outrage at the middle class Catholic society, whom he felt were what was wrong with the way of life at the time. In a daring move he decided to deal with a political issue of that time that he felt so strongly about. He chastises the people for ruining the world that the great past heroes had fought so hard for.
His sarcastic tone in the opening stanza works well. He portrays his disgust at their actions
‘But fumble in a greasy till and add the half pence to the pence, and prayer to shivering prayer, for men were born to pray and save’.
He condemns these people for their actions. Not truly believing in what they do, but praying for the sake of it to save their souls in the next life. I completely agree with this assessment as I feel hypocrisy is the most unflattering of traits.
‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone’ is a lament for the patriots of old, who heroically fought for a better life. His anger is palpable at these miserly middle-class catholics who are undoing all of the past work. Yeats wonders now was their struggle meaningless ‘And what God help us could they save?’ for tis eems to have been futiles. I feel he was right to ‘Let them be’ for if they say today, how the world has turned out, they would realise that their lives ‘they weighed so lightly what they gave’ were wasted on a generation void of any sense of patriotism or nationalism.
After that yeats’s poetry became less musical and romantic, and more realistic, the tensions of the real world over-ruling his ideal fantasies. His work became more realistic and blunt, and above all, more in tune with modern reality. The Easter Rising of 1916 marked a change in his work and a change in his own beliefs.
The political events of 1916 created turmoil in the poet’s life and ultimately posed acute personal dilemmas for him. On the one hand his patriotism and nationalism surged with pride to see a revival of the old ways he’d thought were long dead. Yet he began to realise that these dreams of this ‘ideal world’ were coming at too great a cost.
The opening of ‘E1916’ retains some of the resentment he felt for the people in ‘S1913’. He saw the people as unworthy of his time, nothing more than the butt of his ‘mocking tale or jibe’. They resided where ‘motely was worn’, of no great worth or interest to him.
Then there is a stark contrast to the poet and Yeats began to see them in a different light. ‘All changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born’. He comes to realise that the heroes he spoke of in ‘S1913’ are not ‘with O’Leary in the grave’ but alive an active. They ‘resigned their role in the casual comedy’ and took up arms again in the name of patriotism.
The ‘every moving stream’ is representative of the modern world, forever changing and moving on. The ‘enchanted stone’ is indicative of these patriots who stand still in this ever changing world of flux. Their ideas remain firmly in the past, yet the world moves on...