An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
Analysis of Poem
The title ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’ is reflective of the fact that the airman foresaw his impending death. This title is significant in that it reflects the fate that many people in war face. They know their death is approaching them with very little they can do about it.
The poem is recited in first person. The speaker in this poem is Major Robert Gregory (1881-1918), a close friend of Yeats, who had joined the British Air Force. He is recounting the thoughts that are going through his mind as his death approaches. He died on 23 January 1918, in the final year of the First World War. He was a painter, a classical scholar, a scholar in modern literature, a horseman and a pilot. He was awarded the British Military Cross and the French Legion of Honour. This choice of voice is important because it gives insight into the thoughts of the airman fighting on the verge of death. The speaker is the airman (Major Gregory), but the words and thoughts are given to him by the poet. Yeats makes him the kind of man he most admired: one who can combine passion and detachment, joy and loneliness, and strike a balance between opposing things.
From Yeats point of view, the ideal quality in a man is balance. This quality is at the heart of his presentation of Gregory. He is not motivated to fight because he hates those he is fighting against, or because he loves those he is fighting for. Instead, his thoughts are with his Irish countrymen, those living on or near his family estate at Kiltartan in south Co. Galway. He believes that no matter which side wins the war, these poor people will neither lose nor gain as a result. Here we see Gregory’s sense of balance in action.
Gregory was not forced to fight by law. He did not volunteer because he felt that it was his moral duty. When ‘public men’ encouraged Irish people to fight in the defence of the British Empire,