Module b: at the core of any poem is a desire to order and make sense of the world and our place in it. (do all three poems) Reason for being rejected, lack of understanding- readings Maude Gonne Airman- life is fleeting- trying to reason- soliloquy- irrationality Swans- transient nature of life, its purpose, the use of question
W.B Yeats has explicitly referred to his works of poetry as a process whereby he expresses his own search for identification, a way of externalising what is an inner struggle; “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” Throughout his life and work, Yeats engaged in a “quarrel” with himself that has emerged as a distinctive quality in all of his poetry, notably “When You Are Old”, “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” and “The Wild Swans At Coole.” The breadth and scope of his work and thematic concerns transcends definitive criticism, yet through engaging with his work from a structural, symbolic, post-colonial, feminist, cultural and subjective perspective, a holistic interpretation of his life and purpose will arise. Each work represents a tension between two forces, often internal and external, and places Yeats as the ambiguous presence who mediates between the two, in his writing he searches for passion as opposed to truth, in the hope that this passion will clarify his stance in the tumultuous world he inhabited.
“An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”, seeks to, through the balanced structure of the iambic tetrameter, document a process of internalization whereby the speaker tries to reason with the irrationality of war. As a dedication to Major Gregory, the son of Yeat’s dear friend Lady Gregory, the poem takes on personal meaning, yet is attributed universal resonance through the use of the indefinite article “an”, which implies the situation experienced by Gregory was not exclusive to his circumstance and could apply to any member of the armed forces exposed to the horrors of war. Though the subject matter is deeply tragic, the tone of the poem is one of indifference; “Those that I fight I do not hate Those that I guard I do not love” thus revealing the contradictory nature of Yeat’s work and political perspective. While Yeats himself may be difficult to locate within the layered ambiguities of the poem, the speaker’s purpose is explicit; he presents the audience with a provocative thought; that in the moment before death both past and future are rendered meaningless, and therefore it is essential to live in the present. Yeat’s political stance and role in Irish post-colonialism is much contested, just as the there is division over whether Ireland ever indeed existed as a colony. He does indeed seem to resist a western colonial viewpoint of the war and instead emerges as a fierce Irish nationalist, by rejecting the image of the archetypal wartime male; “Nor law, nor duty bade me fight, Nor public man, nor cheering crowds”. By depicting the airman as one driven by only his own desire, “a lonely impulse of delight” Yeats is exposing a new perspective on the war that may be in many ways quite commonly held by young men active in the armed forces, specifically arguing the case for the Irish, who after gaining independence became neutral in World War II. By 1917 World War I had been raging for three long years, and it was beginning to seem as though it would never end. The patriotic optimism that was once held had been replaced by looming doubt, and Yeats captures this sentiment in his depiction of a young man who embraces the present because the years behind and in front of him seemed “waste of breath.” The balanced sentence structure of the iambic tetrameter is known as chiasmus, which alludes to intellectual or emotional reasoning taking place. The balanced structure of the poem also mirrors the flight of a plane, which relies on the balance of each wing. The plane here is an extended metaphor; he is caught between life and death....
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