Yeats and His Treatment of Irish Concerns

Topics: Easter Rising, William Butler Yeats, Ireland Pages: 5 (1637 words) Published: October 3, 2003
Discuss with reference to at least three poems, Yeats' treatment of Irish Concerns

Yeats changes his treatment of Irish concerns throughout his life and these changes are reflected in his poetry. Three poems that reflect these changes are 'September 1913', 'Easter 1916' and 'Under Ben Bulben'. These poems show a transpositions in political thought. In 'September 1913' Yeats shows his aversion to democracy and capitalism, and expresses his belief in an aristocratic society preferably governed by elite Protestants, as they had supremacy over Catholics in his view (Chaudhry, 33). The events of the Rising initiated a metamorphosis in Yeats. 'Easter 1916' shows how Yeats (usually not supportive of violence as a political movement) credited it with achieving something (Macrae 77). This poem enables us to see that Yeats' strong belief in politics is beginning to diminish. The last poem 'Under Ben Bulben' was written in Yeats' later stage of life. It shows how Yeats has transposed his treatment of Irish concerns over time, as now, in this poem he places the responsibility not upon the politician or the martyr, but on academia and literature to invoke the new Ireland.

'September 1913' is anti-Catholic in nature. Yeats centers the poem around the need for the new Catholic middle class to come to their senses "What need you, being come to sense" and to stop exiling Protestants "wild geese" to the Continent. In this poem Yeats tries to rekindle the passion for Nationalism that existed whilst John O'Leary was alive. He does this by installing a sense of guilt. "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone / Its with O'Leary in the grave", these lines repeated throughout the poem point out that the Nationalist cause is being forgotten because the leader is no longer there to enforce it. By doing this Yeats attempts to regain the impetus for Nationalism that once existed by making out that the cause O'Leary spent his life working for was fading away and would therefore make his efforts futile. The third stanza further reflects the idea that people need to rally behind the cause of literary nationalism as it discusses the Irish rebels who fought for Catholic emancipation. "For this that all that blood was shed / For this Edward Fitzgerald died / And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone / All that delirium of the brave?" These lines show how Yeats was conflicted over what defines a hero (Macrae 69). Yeats respected them for being a part of the Nationalist cause, but opposed the violent means they used to try and achieve it. "All that delirium of the brave?" suggests that Yeats believed their intentions were admirable but their judgement was clouded, and that instead of violence they should have been using literary means to fulfill their objectives.

'Easter 1916' displays a change in Yeats. The rising and its aftermath shocked Yeats and crushed some of the beliefs he previously held as expressed in 'September 1913'. Yeats was in England at the time of the rising and was annoyed at not being informed about the event before it occurred (Macrae 76), this can be seen in the tone and subject of the first stanza. "Polite meaningless words" and "To please a companion / Around the fire at the club" expresses how Yeats felt discordance at not being told about the rising, especially since he was one of the "club" Nationalists. The rising shattered Yeats' disillusionment with the new Ireland "All changed, changed utterly", shock arose out of the willingness for people he knew to sacrifice themselves for the cause, of whom he thought were following him in the literary Nationalist approach. Yeats was disgusted at the brutal way in which the executions were carried out and this significantly weakened his belief in politics. The brutality of the death created martyrs as it gave the executed leaders authority and power they had not experienced before death. Yeats, who had previously believed in a non-violent approach, receded his pacifist attitude slightly to conceded...

Cited: Chaudhry, Yug M. Yeats, the Irish Literary Revival and the Politics of Print. Cork: Cork University Press, 2001.
Macrae, Alasdair D. F. W. B. Yeats: A Literary Life. New York: St Martin 's Press, 1995.
Malins, Edward. Yeats and the Easter Rising. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1965.
Yeats, William B. W. B. Yeats: Selected Poems. Ed. Timothy Webb.
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