This is a very old set of notes on English texts, written for the NSW Higher School Certificate in 1998. It may be useful to students studying the text, but does not reflect any current syllabus.
The Wild Swans at Coole, The Wild Swans at Coole, W. B. Yeats, 1919.
The poet is at Coole, the estate of his friend Lady Gregory. It is autumn - October. He is looking out at the lake, where there are fifty nine swans. It is the nineteenth year that he has seen the sight. As he thinks, the swans fly into the air and circle. He thinks about what has passed in the years gone by. His thoughts return to the paired swans, together in the cold air, or in the water. He watches them swim, and wonders who will watch them next.
The poem has five stanzas of six lines each. The rhyme scheme is generally abcbdd. The rhythm is flowing, songlike, melodious and slow.
The language is bedtime story-like in the opening stanza, which sets the scene, there are "woodland path[s]", a "still sky" and "brimming water". It becomes noisier in the second stanza. A lot of the expressions are well used "my heart is sore", "trod with a lighter tread", and "delight men's eyes".
The story is told distantly, the narrator/poet is passive. He "count[s]", "look[s]", "awakes" and "finds". The swans are the only active participants in the poem.
The tone of the first stanza is a factual, scene-setting tone. The poet is not investing much emotion besides calm and an appreciation of beauty into the scene. The introduction of "I" into the second stanza makes it more personal. The second half of this stanza becomes disjointed, the tone startled. The third stanza draws back from the active verbs, again personal, but this time melancholy, he is nostalgic, wistful, his "heart is sore". The fourth stanza has hint of admiration mixed in its envy and awe and the fifth returns to melancholy, disappointment and loneliness.
The mood almost immediately assumes Yeats' typical regrets in aging. In particular, the poem has moments of loneliness, regret, envy and inevitability, as well as a sense of fraternity in these emotions among humanity. The implication is that the swans will "delight men's eyes" by some other pool, and leave them too.
Alliteration - "still sky", "stones... swans", "bell-beat", "cold/Companionable", "wander where they will"
Onomatopoeia - "clamorous", "bell-beat", "trod... tread", "paddle", "drift" These all relate to the swans.
Metaphor - "bell-beat of their wings"
The background imagery "tree", "woodland", "the water mirror[ing] a still sky" is scene setting, relevant in creating tone and mood, and as the poem develops, demonstrating that nature does not run to man's timetable, but to its own changing one. "Autumn" is the explicit image of death in nature, its own considerable beauty means ending, a point which is further developed in the swan image.
The rolling of years is explicitly mentioned in the following stanza, and the break between the divisive impulses of nature and eternity within the poet is symbolised in the swans' actions - they "all suddenly mount/And scatter wheeling in great broken wings". The image of passing years is evoked quite explicitly in the first stanza, and it is demonstrated that each years fall from summer to winter treads heavier on the poet. Originally he would have seen only the beauty of the swans, and not their sadness.
The swans themselves are symbolic of youth, of "passion or conquest", that there is something beyond mortality that remains constant, passing through the hands of the generations. Their untouchableness, the beauty observable but not obtainable (like that of the autumn) is their main feature. It is the observer who reels from their sudden mount, and eventual disappearance, they themselves are unchanged.
The theme is again old age; and what it leaves behind. The idea is almost Platonic, that there are constants hidden beyond mortality in the great wheel of time.g the poem remembers its triumph.
The next part of the poem is wailed, almost - "O when may it suffice?". It is a death lament, but then he considers that they may have planted a seed. There is a sense of consummation in the conclusion of this part - "enough/To know they dreamed and are dead". He finishs with a formal tribute, a roll of honour, the conclusion - they are dead, and they have changed.
The poet is puzzled at commonplace at the beginning of the poem. He is not nostalgic, but slightly scornful, he saw history but not the seeds of its making. He is annoyed at himself, having passed by "being certain that they and I/But lived where motley is born". He is startled at the contrast between the woman of "ignorant good-will", and the men even (MacDonaugh) "who might have won fame in the end", and their winning of fame, and their hopeless dream. He directly contrasts this, and thier lives which were almost "casual comedy" with the transcendant, and repeated note of "a terrible beauty is born".
Then he remembers, in images, their dream. He is again moved to surprise and wonder, at what seemed and what was. Then he is anguished, that making "a stone of the heart" dis not "suffice", but then thinks that it might have done, and perhaps they would have died anyway. There is a note of furfilment and completion in the act of repeating the names, as Heaven does, and to "write it out in a verse", an action which lives up to their example, and builds on their "terrible beauty".
Alliteration - "beauty... born", "force... fame", "casual comedy", "no, no, not night"
Repitition - "polite meaningless words... polite emaningless words", "changed, changed utterly [twice, and 'changed' occures elsewhere]", "voice... voice", "a terrible beauty is born [3 times]", "horse... horse-hoof... horse", "cloud... cloud... cloud", "moor-hens... hens to moor-cocks", "stone... stone... stone", "name upon name", "nightfall... not night but death... death", "dream... dreamed", "dead... died".
Onomatopoeia - "shrill", "plashes", "call", "murmur"
Assonance - "counter... houses", "seemed... sweet", "bewildered... till... died"
Metaphor - "can make a stone of the heart"
Simile - "as a mother names her child"
The people themselves are the primary image of the first half of the poem. The poet also uses himself and society as images, but not as clearly drawn. Society is the vague land of "polite meaningless words" around the "fire at the club". The poet is merely a speaker at the club. The people are contrasted with each other as well as with their fate. The woman is loud and ignorant, but kind, the men, school teachers, potential leaders, or "drunken vainglorious lout[s]."
The hearts are not just "enchanted to a stone", but the heart becomes stone before this is explicitly stated in the poem - it is clear in the "midst of it all". The other images in this part of the poem are the stome's antithesis, moving water, galloping horse, birds singing, flying, calling, clouds "tumbling", all "minute by minute". The stone is eternal, unseen by the living "stream", but at its centre none the less. This part of the poem is a metaphor for the poem's first half.
The hero-rebels having been dealt with, now the living stream is developed. It is its part to become slower, to stand still for a roll-call of names, to remember the dead as the mother watches a sleeping child, nd to remember their dream. Yeats has pride in being able to perform this in verse, and forsees green as their symbol.
Yeats is not using the death of those he knew as a conscious tool to develop a larger theme, their "terrible beauty" is enough for the poem. However, the echoes of other themes that the poem contains are most explicitly conveyed in the nature metaphor, that the passing minutes and years do not take all with them, that past death ideas may be victorious, it is the idea which gives its defenders their "terrible beauty".
The world is falling apart, the best are falling are falling apart and the worst are triumphing. The speaker wonders aloud about the Second Coming, and his voice summons a Sphinx creature in the desert to wake from two millennia of sleep, and as night falls, it moves off towards Bethlehem.
There are three parts to this poem. The first is two lines long, the second six and the third fourteen. There is little rhyme in the poem, although lines do occasionally end with similar sounding words. There is a relatively regular rhythm.
Yeats makes various references to his philosophy - "gyre", "the Second Coming", "twenty centuries of stony sleep". Various semi-Biblical language is used - "ceremony", "the sands of the desert", "Bethlehem to be born".
The first third of the poem is in the first person, and the poem's focus is the third person. The first person is used to make the creature's existence more actual, having both a poetic and visionary realism, which combine summarise the poet's sense of the world. In the final line appears a question, which is used to confirm the atmosphere of the poem.
The poem opens with a neutral tone, the non-realistic imagery makes the opening disengaged. The impact of the first two lines is not lent by tone, but by their peculiarity and imagery. The sense of devastation that pervades the poem is introduced in the second part, it is explicitly stated that "things fall apart", and this is further emphasised by the words "anarchy", "blood-dimmed tide", "passionate intensity". However, the poem itself, which is so far dealing in abstractions, lacks this passionate intensity - its tone could be more accurately described as "anxious".
The religious cry of the third part coalesces the tone into a more frightening form. It is this stanza that the first person is introduced, and the poet's own "vast image" emerges from the desert. The description of its "blank and pitiless" gaze lends a more prophetic frightening tone to the conclusion of the poem, which ends in a rhetorical question.
The mood of the opening two lines is confused, dizzy, "turning and turning". The mood falls over, as it were, at the beginning of the second part "things fall apart". The abstraction of the second part adds to the dizzy confusion that is the mood. Even humanity is not explicitly named - they are "the best" and "the worst". Finally, however, in the third part the focus of the imagery becomes "troubl[ing]", and the adjectives applied to this one image are "vast", "pitiless", and so, by the focus, the troubling atmosphere becomes disturbing, and, because it is unresolved, the poem's final impact is shattering.
Repetition - "turning and turning", "falcon... falconer", "loosed... loosed", "surely... surely", "the Second Coming... The Second Coming!"
Alliteration - "Surely some", "stony sleep"
Onomatopoeia - "vexed", "slouches"
Simile - "blank and pitiless as the sun"
Metaphor - "stony sleep"
The first two images are complimentary - the spinning gyre, producing dizziness, and the lost falcon, which cannot answer the calls it is trained for, it is lost. In a sense, power is useless. The imagery of the second part is much less specific - it is general "anarchy". The third part contains the key image of the poem - the Second Coming not being the triumphant return of Christ, but the re-awakening of the pre-Christian era. Its representative is the powerful, half-animal Sphinx. Its body is that of a "lion", only the head of a man is left. Man's thoughts would be mixed with the pre-human power of the lion's claws.
The "indignant desert birds" are the expendable "shadows", the weak humans cowering before the terror, not completely understanding it. Finally, the poem focuses on the speaker's own mind, via the falling "darkness". It is knowledge that is being given to the reader. The power of the "twenty centuries of stony sleep" was woken by a "rocking cradle".
The Second Coming is about disintegration, about chaos, about the sudden change that can be called from the littlest thing and reach out its tendrils to enfold the world.
The speaker is watching his baby daughter sleep. It is stormy, and he prays for her. As he listens to the storm wail, he almost sees the future arrive. He prays for beauty, but not too much - Helen and Aphrodite chose husbands badly, despite their looks. He wants her educated, he wants he to realise that love must be earned. Many a man has hopelessly loved a beautiful woman. He hopes she will be a "flourishing hidden tree", being no rebel, but kind and merry, not argumentative and aggressive, or perhaps quiet and secure, "rooted in one dear perpetual place". The speaker himself has suffered from love and beauty, but he knows that hatred is drying, destructive. He hopes his daughter will have no strong opinions, these are the worst form of hatred. He hopes his daughter will find that her soul is "self-delighting", that happiness is all. He hopes, finally, for her to be married in ceremony, ceremony and custom being the sources of true beauty.
The poem is divided into ten stanzas, of eight lines each. The rhyme scheme is aabbcddc, and the rhythm regular.
The poem is actually delivered as part prayer and part lecture. The "may" often uses is the part of the prayer, but it tends to digress to a dissertation of the discussion on beauty leading to Helen of Troy and Aphrodite. The structure is that every second stanza refers to the daughter, and the others develop ideas into a broader concept of life.
The poem is spoken in the first person, and is quite personal even when not speaking directly thus. There is "my child", "I". The "she" is the speaker's own child. Only at the end of every second stanza does the poem branch into a more third-person view of life.
The poem opens with an atmosphere of precarious safety, "whereby the haystack- and roof-leveling wind,/Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;". It is a turning point, a point to "walk... and pray...". There is "great gloom". The second stanza is quite frenetic, as the "sea wind scream[s]" and the speaker wakes in an "excited reverie". The third stanza is imploring - "may she...", and the forth troubled, and sad. The fifth stanza is delivered in a lecture style, and the sixth returns to a prayer, but more positive. The next stanza is sad but strong, confident. Again, the eighth lectures, with an air of wisdom, of experience. The ninth stanza is revealing, and the last hopeful.
The mood of the first stanza is unstable, frightened. The second is anxious, an "excited reverie". The third is also anxious, but careful and precise, on surer ground. The fourth is even surer, Yeats returning to his obsession with classical mythology. The next stanza is hopeful, and confident again. The sixth is slightly more cautious, more negative. The seventh is self-aware, regretful, but strong. The eighth is knowing, wary, cautious. The ninth is "happy", optimistic and the tenth more so.
Alliteration - "howling, and half hid", "cradle-hood and coverlid", "great gloom", "sea-wind scream", "dancing... drum", "Being made beautiful", "hatred driven hence", "bellows burst"
Assonance - "walked and prayed", "hidden... linnet", "hatred... wares"
Repetition - "self-delighting,/Self-appeasing, self-affrighting"
Onomatopoeia - "howling", "scream", "spray", "merriment", "choked", "bellows", "scowl", "howl"
Metaphor - "Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,/And custom for the spreading laurel tree"
Simile - "all her thoughts may like the linnet be", "may she live like some green laurel"
Most of the images in "A Prayer For My Daughter" are actually quite literal. However, their deeper meaning is no less relevant. The "storm" is threatening outside forces, probably the future. The "cradle" signifies his daughter's babyhood, the temporary protection she has from the perils Yeats goes on to describe. The sea, being the source of the wind, is the logical source for the "future years". The "murderous innocence" that is attributed to the sea is a juxtaposition of his daughter and the world that awaits for her.
Yeats uses the image of his daughter, which is central to the poem, partly represent his ideal woman. Most of the succeeding images are parts of the ideal woman, or their opposites. Beauty is the first, too much beauty is seen as making the eye "distraught", an enemy to "intimacy". The following image is of Helen and Venus/Aphrodite, whose beauty made "life flat and dull". Beauty distorts women, making them "eat/A crazy salad with their meat", which destroys the benefit they were given by the "Horn of Plenty".
The chief lesson taught to a girl should be that "hearts are earned", that men who are charmed by beauty eventually learn their mistake.
Instead, a woman should be "a flourishing hidden tree", that is, not well known, not famous. She should not be anything but merry. The tree image is extended from meaning "hidden", to meaning "rooted". Yeats then uses an image of his own mind as "dried", implying how deeply rooted these ideas are within him. Again the wind is used as the forces of the future, and the "leaf" and "linnet" as the girl. Then Yeats denounces "opinions". The loveliest woman he has known is thought as of "an old bellows full of wind" by others because of her strong opinions.
Then Yeats develops his positives, the aspects of the "soul". "Innocence" is beautiful in women. If the soul knows itself, the "wind" cannot harm her. He hopes she will marry, and her house be full of custom, because it is outside, "in the thoroughfares" that "arrogance and hatred" are sold. "Custom and.. ceremony" are the sources of "innocence and beauty". He reveals his own images - the "horn" is ceremony, and the tree "custom".
The theme is directly expressed in the poem. The most appealing woman (and to some extent, person), the happiest, is beautiful and innocent, thriving in a world of custom and ceremony.
"That" is a place of the young, human and otherwise. In "that sensual music" of birth, aging and death, unchanging "monuments... of intellect" are "neglected". An aged man is nothing there, a scarecrow, unless he sings his own praises louder for every hole in his clothing. So the narrator has left, and come to Byzantium. He calls for the wise men, who are pictured in "gold mosaic[s]" in "holy fire[s]". He calls to them to take his heart from his body, to where it too can be eternal. If he had a choice in all of nature, he would not be himself, but a golden sculpture, who would sing forever the cycle to "lords and ladies of Byzantium".
There are four stanzas, each of eight lines. The rhyme scheme of each stanza is abcbcdee, ababacdd, abacadee, abababcc. This is fairly regular, as is the rhythm, which is fairly leisurely and songlike.
Mostly comprehensible, occasional archaism - "commend", "begotten", "tatter", "artifice" - perhaps to fit the setting. Some of this is almost biblical - "begotten", "soul".
Almost the first two stanzas set the scene in the third person, telling the stories of others. The third stanza is in a plea form, direct speech, but not directed at the reader. The last stanza is, in an almost informative way.
The first stanza has contempt for both "old men", and "the young... those dying generations". There is a hint of anger, at the ignorance of the inhabitants, caught in their "sensual music", "neglect[ing] monuments of unageing intellect". The second stanza is full of self-contempt, and scorn for all the old men who either are "a tattered cloak upon a stick", or those who sing "monuments of [their] own magnificence". Then the third stanza is pleading, emphasising the superiority of the "sages" over the "dying animal". The fourth stanza begins in scorn, and ends wistfully, hoping for eternity.
The first stanza is mournful - "Those dying generations", caught thoughtlessly in "sensual music". There is a cyclical echo "begotten, born and dies", "generations", but it is not this that stirs the poet. "Unageing intellect" is far superior. The second stanza is full of scorn - "paltry", "tattered", "monuments of its own magnificence", culminating in the narrator leaving. The third stanza is desperate, "sick with desire", and the last assured, calm, removed from "what is past, or passing, or to come".
Opposition - "The young/In one another's arms, birds in the trees" are "those dying generations".
Alliteration - "song... salmon", "fish, flesh... fowl", "begotten, born", "monuments... magnificence", "Grecian goldsmiths".
Repetition - "song... music... sing... sing... singing... singing... sing", "begotten, born and dies... past, passing and to come", "tattered... tatter", "gold... goldsmiths... gold... gold... golden", "monument... monument", "holy fire... holy fire".
The imagery in the first stanza is all natural, all changing - "those dying generations" - "the young", "the salmon", "mackerel", "fish, flesh or fowl".
There is recurring imagery of music throughout the poem, with various connotations - "sensual music", "sing, and louder sing", "singing-masters of my soul", "set upon a golden bough to sing". Music tends to have cyclical implications, both to the young, and to the lords and ladies of Byzantium. The difference is that the first is not perceived by the listeners, generation after generation, and the second is. Singing can be a source of power, but also a sign of desperation.
The image of the scarecrow old man is a weak, contemptuous one, singing loudly of his own achievements, for lack of anything else to sing about.
In Byzantium, the imagery suddenly shifts to Old Testament; power, trial by fire, cleansing. The riches of Byzantium are those of Babylon. There is "God's holy fire", "soul", "the artifice of eternity". Once again the poem is contemptuous of impermanence, "the dying animal" is an unworthy home for the heart - "it knows not what it is".
The narrator will not "take [his] bodily form" from nature, but the form of Art, "of hammered gold and gold enamelling", to sit in the eternal cycle and sing of it.
This poem promotes "monuments of unageing intellect" above the "sensual music". One must stand outside "those dying generations" and sing of them, participating is worthy only of contempt. On a broader scale, Art is superior to Nature in this poem.
Leda is knocked down by the swan, caught by "his bill", held under him. There is no way that she can free herself. The "shudder in the lions" is the cause of the disasters to befall on grief as a result of Leda's children. Yeats wonders whether she took his knowledge as well as his power before he let her go.
The poem has four stanzas - the first two of which have four lines; the third having two and a half, and the fourth having three and a half. The rhyme scheme of the first two stanzas is abab, and the third and fourth together make up abcabc. There is a relatively regular rhythm, but the curious division of the last six lines make this one of the less regular of the poems in this regard.
The players, Leda and Zeus are nameless in the poem (excepting the title of course), and elements of the swan are personified - "the great wings", "The feathered glory", "the brute blood of the air" are all given and identity of their own.
The poem is one of the few written in the third person. Leda is "the girl" and Zeus "the Swan", which is not named at all, only the appearance and power is described. The poet is "present" however - there is a sense of person behind the three questions in the poem, which occur twice in the second stanza and once in the final stanza.
As a whole the poem is rather awe-struck, under the mystique of the Zeus and Leda legend, which was one of Yeats' cataclysmic two thousand year events. Although words such as "terrified" describe Leda, they are not in the tone of the poem or the speaker. The use of the half-rhetorical questions, and the adjectives which precede them - "strange", "indifferent" is indicative of the mystic nature of the poem.
The mood varies a little more than the tone does. Yeats tends to alternate between giving the reader a sense of the terror of the "staggering girl", and the beauty of the swan - its "feathered glory" and its "strange heart". It is the verbs and adjectives used to create the mood, emphasising the power of the swan both by direct descriptions and by the girl's response.
Assonance - "great wings", "his bill", "knowledge... power"
Alliteration - "broken... burning", "brute blood"
Onomatopoeia - "beating", "staggering", "caressed", "shudder"
The image of the swan is dealt with in great detail - "wings", "web[bed feet]", "bill", "breast", "feathered glory", "strange heart", "the loins", "brute blood", "indifferent beak". The image is meant to be of great power and beauty, and of emotions strange and wonderful - hence the "strange heart".
Leda is weaker - a "staggering girl". She is "helpless", "terrified vague", "so caught up", "so mastered". The two images - power and submission - embrace, the swan on top. The orgasm "engenders there" the fall of Troy, the death of a king.
Then Yeats explicitly names the central images of the poem - "power" and "knowledge". In the penetration and subversion of the powerless, is something gained, does their place in history become cemented.
The poem is about the interactions between power and powerlessness on a number of levels. The first is the obvious sexual level, what does the helpless woman have to gain from the embrace of a powerful man? And, over all, the strangeness of interactions between the possessors of power and the powerless, that can result in such disastrous consequences.
The poet walks in a classroom, watching the teaching. He thinks of a "Ledaean body" telling the tale of a childhood event that the poet sympathised with. He wonders if Leda was like the children he is watching now. He thinks back to his own childhood. He wonders what mother ever pictures her child at sixty, or as a grown philosopher. He talks about the various philosophers, and others, what part they have in life.
The poem has eight stanzas, each of which is headed by a roman numeral. Each stanza has eight lines, a regular rhythm, and a regular rhyme scheme of abababcc.
Some of the phrases in the early parts of the poem are quite school-marmish - "be neat in everything", and then immediately reverts into the metaphysical - "Into a sphere from youthful sympathy". It leans more heavily towards the second as the poem goes on.
The poem is written in the first person (present tense), apparently from the perspective of the poet, or at any rate a "sixty-year-old smiling public man". He describes the children in the first stanza, and the "Ledaean body" in the second, a description which has the pronoun of "she" but seems to be "it", an object, sometimes. The "she" of the third stanza is still Leda, but in the present. The fifth stanza is in the third person, the "youthful mother", and the "he" - the son. The sixth is again third person - the Greeks, and the seventh returns to sons and mothers, and the eighth is addressed to the reader in the second person.
The first stanza is placid, complacent, the old man in the room of "children" and a "kind old nun", children being taught to be "neat". The "sinking fire" of the second stanza gives it a powerful, mythical tone, a "parable" of superhuman unity and knowledge. The third stanza is uneasy, aware of the slumbering power that may be in the children. The fourth stanza is again uneasy with a three-way contrast between the present children, Leda and himself. He tries to drag it back to some sort of normalcy by referring to himself as an "old scarecrow". The fifth stanza is foreboding and the sixth is transcendent. The penultimate stanza is half knowing, half worried, and the last is more comfortable, happier, having broken through.
The first stanza is comfortable, friendly, the second awakened, awed, inspired by memory. The third is apprehensive and curious, cautiously reflective. The fourth is again reflective, but more assured - "Better to smile on all that smile." The fifth is more worried (note the poet's choice of verbs), more conscious of pain and suffering. The sixth is contemplative, sitting in the realm of the Greats. The seventh is knowing, knowledgeable, again the poet is in a world he is comfortable in. The concluding stanza is hopeful, in a way, hopeful of understanding.
Alliteration - "cipher... sing", "sixty... smiling", "sphere... sympathy", "Plato's parable", "finger fashion", "pretty plumage", "sleep, shriek, struggle", "drug decide", "star sang", "passion, piety", "body... bruised"
Assonance - "through the long schoolroom... hood", "driven wild... living child", "shape... lap"
Onomatopoeia - "paddlers'", "shriek, struggle"
Metaphor - "a Ledaean body" "nature but a spume that plays/Upon a ghostly paradigm of things", "Soldier Aristotle", "Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?"
Simile - "Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind"
The image of the children in their classroom is a comfortable image, to match the "sixty-year-old smiling public man". It is later subverted, but is very pure as it stands, having the obvious associations of innocence. The second image is of the "Ledaean body", an image of mystic, which is associated with her childhood tale, a less pleasant story of "a harsh reproof, or trivial event/That turned some childish day to tragedy", an event harsh enough to register on the mind of such a creature, and it strikes a chord in the poet too - and their natures are able to blend. Here - the universal nature of childhood, and its power.
He remembers this as he looks back at the children, every person "can share/Something" of the children, and so the poet is reminded of her. Another image which he uses to remind the reader that every person is similar is the beauty that every child has.
He wonders then if any "youthful mother" would consider her son at sixty "A compensation for the pang of his birth". He is exploring the relation between the pain of childhood and the fulfilment of age, and wonders if the first is equal to the second.
He thinks about the old men, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and their thoughts and ideas, and dismisses them as "Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird." He places his value on childhood. He then moves on to the images of mothers and nuns - the children and the idols. Even the candles and ideals of the nun are capable of "break[ing] hearts".
The last stanza contains several images - first the reward of labour being an undamaged body, not the desperate beauty of struggle, nor the wisdom of late nights of work. He asks whether the part of the tree he addressed is the leaf, blossom or bole (perhaps food, ornament or centre), and then declares that the person cannot be separated from their task.
Yeats is espousing the virtues of youth, and the uncorrupted. Even the ideas, successes and hard won triumphs of age are a blemish on youth. He is arguing for a sort of integration of body and soul - a healthy youthful body is as much a goal as anything else. The core of humanity is in childhood.
The poet is "at the end of [his] life." "Picture and book remain,/An acre of green grass/For air and exercise". He is losing his "strength of body". He finds that "imagination" and reason - "the mill of the mind" cannot find the truth. All he can hope for is "an old man's frenzy", a madness of loneliness and age. Only this will bring the truth to him.
4 stanzas of 6 lines each. The last two lines of each stanza rhyme. Each line is short. A certain pattern to the syllables, but the rhythm is broken and uneven, hardly melodious. Lines 2 and 4 of stanzas 3 and 4 rhyme.
Simple language in the first stanza, perhaps to echo simple desires. The language moves to the abstract in the second stanza: "temptation", "imagination", "the mill of the mind". There are literary references in the third stanza. Throughout the poem, the language is relatively simple and common.
Impersonal first stanza, entirely third person. Second and third stanza are first person and the fourth stanza returns to the impersonal. The imperative - "must I" echoes the "beat upon the wall" in the third stanza - this is an overall 'violent upheaval' stanza, the climax of the poem.
The tone is gentle and assenting in the first stanza. In the second stanza it becomes confessional, sharing the poet's inadequacies. In the third stanza the tone is angry, pleading, desirous, and in the fourth stanza transcendental, calm. The pinnacle of experience.
The mood seems resigned in the first stanza, resigned to death, to a quiet fading. The pace quickens in the second stanza. The mood is suddenly frenetic in the third stanza, desperate, questing, hankering. The fourth stanza has an exultant, transcendental mood.
Alliteration - "green grass", "life... loose", "mill... mind", "Myself must... remake".
"Midnight", "life's end" - euphemisms for death. "Nothing stirs but a mouse" -cliched.
"Picture and book remain/An acre of green grass/For air and exercise" symbolic of the simple outward things of life, that are left to the poet and leave him unsatisfied.
His body is "an old house". "Nothing stirs but a mouse" - he feels he is nothing but a mouse, that the outward pleasures are but a little bit of him and the rest is empty. The first stanza has concrete imagery.
In the second stanza, the poet cuts to the heart of what he speaks of. The mind and its servants, imagination and reason, a "mill... consuming rag and bone" cannot find truth. The work, the thoughts are all misleading.
In the third stanza, Yeats concludes that frenzy and madness will guide him to truth. He alludes to various literary figures. Timon (of Athens, a Shakespearian hero) began as a wealthy noble, and ruined himself with generosity. He is deserted and curses his old friends and leaves the city. He finds gold but cannot use it. When the Athenians come to beg for his help, he shows them where to hang themselves. His grave is on the seashore, and its epitaph expresses hatred for all mankind.
King Lear of Britain had three daughters. Each is to get a share of the kingdom based on their affection for him. Cordelia says she loves him according to her duty, nothing more or less. She is banished, disinherited. She marries the king of France without a dowry. The other two sisters, possessed of half the kingdom each, eventually turn their father out of doors in a storm. The French land in England. Lear's rage and exposure have driven him to madness. The French are defeated, Cordelia hanged and Lear dies of grief.
The poet William Blake was an engraver. He was a revolutionist, bitterly disillusioned by the outcome of the French Revolution. In his later years, he relinquished hope of his poetry being understood even by his circle. Most of his admirers considered him mad, if a genius.
Again, in the fourth stanza, the imagery refers to the abstract - "frenzy... mind" but the image is powerful. The eagle pierces the clouds, disturbs the dead.
The elderly poet refuses to fade with age, relaxing into simple pleasures as his body deteriorates. Reason and imagination have failed him in his quest for truth. He wants a frenzy, a madness that will reveal the truth to him, leaving him with a mind that reaches to heaven and to the dead, an "eagle mind".
In this poem transcendental truth is placed above the simple pleasures, and even above the mind. Reason and imagination, even sanity, are nothing in comparison to the quest for truth.
A person prays "that civilisation may not sink", and asks that the animals be quieted, Caesar is in the tent, his eyes fixed on nothing. A beautiful woman is alone, dancing. The reader is instructed to move "most gently". The young girls, thinking of their first man must be kept out of the "Pope's chapel" - Michael Angelo is painting.
There are three stanzas, each of ten lines. The last two lines of each stanza is a refrain in italics - "Like a long-legged fly upon the stream/His mind moves upon silence." There is a regular rhythm, and the rhyme scheme is abcbdefegg. The lines are rather short.
The language is part historical - "that civilisation may not sink/It's great battle lost" - mixed with more personal expressions - "our master Caesar". Occasionally colloquialisms are used - "tinker shuffle"
The first stanza is part second person - the vocative "tether the pony" is an order from the speaker, part first person plural - "our", and part third person, describing Caesar. The second stanza is similar, beginning third person, and moving into the second person, and ending third person. Again the third and second person are both used in the third stanza. A vocative - "tether the pony", "Move most gently if you must", "Keep those children out" is used in every stanza. The refrain is most distinctly third person.
The tone of the first stanza is awe-filled, a servant of Caesar speaking of his master, and their great civilisation. The second stanza is more protective of the "part woman, three parts a child", and the third is more superior still, more authorative - "Keep those children out", yet returning to awe in the description of "Michael Angelo". This awe is expressed most potently in the refrain - the power of the three is a silent one.
The whole poem has a respectful, quiet mood. There are elements of urgency in the first stanza, but they are cancelled by the power in the refrain. The second stanza has less urgency, it is more admiration, mixed with condescension. The third stanza is more contemptuous, the mood is impatient, under the wonder of Michael Angelo. The impression left by the "mind mov[ing] upon silence" is that of strength.
Alliteration - "civilisation... sink", "hand... head", "topless towers", "move most... move... must", "Practise... Picked", "mice make"
Assonance - "master Caesar", "maps are", "topless towers"
Repetition - "move... move"
Simile - "Like a long-legged fly upon the stream"
The first images are contrasting, and anticlimactic - civilisation will be saved by tying up the animals, removing minor annoyances. Caesar's power is in thought, he is in the tent, not looking at the maps, "His eyes fixed upon nothing".
The burning of the towers depends upon moving quietly while a woman aimlessly dances in a "lonely place". The last stanza, however, moves away from the minor-events-leading-to-major-ones theme, and returns to a great mind being kept from minor annoyance, the artist "Michael Angelo" being shielded from the girls dreaming of love, one of the themes of his painting perhaps.
Quiet is a primary image in the poem, everything depends on one mind, and the quiet surrounding it. They must not be distracted from their dance, their stratagems or their painting.
The repeated image is that of the long-legged fly, which walks on the "stream" without sinking,, and obviously, without leaving marks. The lightness of its touch allows it to travel easily, lightly, just as the important mind do in silence.
The waywardness of fate is dealt with obscurely here - the silence rules all. The importance of individuals is also dealt with - the fate of civilisations may fall to a man in a tent. And lastly, the light touch of the great mind.
The writer sought a theme for weeks, and had to be content to write about his heart, although when he was younger, there was plenty to write about. He can do nothing but speak of old themes; dreams, "vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose", the embittered heart. The poet is "starved" of love for a woman. The woman "pity crazed" gave "her soul away". The dream itself obsesses him, and not the reality. But now that all the images are gone, he must return to the story of the heart.
The poem is divided into 5 stanzas, each of eight lines. The rhyme scheme is abcbcbdd, abababcc, ababcbde, ababcbde, ababdeff - the b line repetition being the most repeated. Thus the poem has a broken rhyme scheme. There is a certain rhythm to the words.
The poem is divided into three parts: Part I consisting of stanza 1, Part II of stanzas 2 through to 4, and Part III of stanza 5.
We find many of Yeats' mythological references here, but this time they refer to Irish folklore - "Oisin", "Cathleen", "Cuchulain" - not to classical mythology. Some of the expressions are clichéd - "sought for it in vain", "in pure mind". Yeats makes a reference to "rag-and-bone" which occurs in another poem. The language is slightly archaic - "ungovernable", "embittered", but comprehensible. Occasionally it takes on an air of literary criticism - "themes", "enumerate", "allegorical", "counter-truth", "masterful images".
Much of the poem is narrated by a first person persona, and the rest as if that first person persona is telling a disjointed story, full of disconnected events. It is almost a poem-within-a-poem structure. Part I is the part where Yeats moves through his poem-stories, his "circus animals". Finally he moves out of this, but Part III is the part where he tells the story of his mind, of his poetry.
The image of the poet seeking a theme for six weeks opens the poem in an exasperated tone, quickly becoming resigned, and then slightly amused - "the Lord knows what".
The tone describing Oisin is a heroic-narration style, but slightly contemptuous, as if he is telling the tragedy of an idiot. The "Cathleen" stanza is slightly more respectful, but distant tone. Finally, the tone in the second last stanza is insightful, revealing, candid. Finally, the last stanza sinks down, it becomes resigned.
The mood is first ironic, the poet referring to himself as "but a broken man", and speaking of his "circus animals". Then it becomes nostalgic, but at the same time self-aware, self-critical. Again, the "Cathleen" stanza makes the poet a little easier on himself, a little more involved, but he remains self-critical. In the next stanza he becomes honest, confessional, still self critical. In the last stanza this finally becomes self contempt - "a mound of refuse", and at last it almost becomes depressed, he is down to "the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart".
Alliteration - "being but... broken", "Lion... woman... Lord... what", "Countess Cathleen", "players... painted", "sweepings... street".
Repetition - "sought... sought... sought", "vain... vain... vain", "dream... dream", "old... old... old... old... old" "ladder... ladder".
In the first stanza, the first couple of lines are nearly devoid of imagery, merely the image of the poet, the writer, searching for his themes. Then his images extend into the past - the cyclical "winter and summer". His previous images were all "circus animals" anyway, all "stilted boys... burnished chariot... Lion and woman and the Lord knows what". Then he reminisces. One of his first poems, The Wanderings of Oisin is described in the second stanza. He talks of Oisin as helpless, "led by the nose", "vain... vain... vain". It was his "faery bride" Yeats was "starved for".
And then it is a symbol of the faery bride herself, "she [who] had given her soul away". Yeats then invokes the image of Fate - "masterful heaven". But again, "this dream itself had all [his] thought and love". He then speaks of "The Fool and Blind Man" and "Cuchulain", but they are merely dreams to him, he has not invoked their "heart mysteries." He then talks of poem writing and play writing images, "character isolated by a deed", "players and painted stage".
Finally he draws the source of his images "a mound of refuse... sweepings of a street/Old kettles, old bottles... a broken can... old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut/Who keeps the till". But the "ladder" from which he climbs from the street to the heavens is gone. He is now below even these, and his heart is a "foul rag-and-bone shop".
Yeats is holding some of his early work in contempt. His images were really show - "circus animals". It is not the meaning behind his work that "enchanted" him, it was merely the images, the surface. He did not penetrate to "heart-mysteries". And when he has, he has found little enough there, the source of his "masterful images" - "the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart".
Summary of selected poetry by W. B. Yeats (Higher School Certificate 1998) by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License.
Note that WB Yeat's poetry is in the public domain.