A PERSONAL RESPONSE
I thoroughly enjoyed studying the work of WB Yeats. He presents key themes and messages in the form of artistic and beautiful imagery. He deals with many important issues facing Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century, the search for oneself and death. A key theme in his work is the need to escape, to create a sanctuary where one can think clearly minus the materialism and grayness of the modern world, looking back and reflecting on the past.
‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ is one of my favourite of Yeats’ poems. It deals with the search for inner peace and the importance of escaping the modern world to reflect on what is truly important. Innisfree is a place of unparalleled beauty for Yeats. Each of us has our own Innisfree and the desire to escape meaning that everybody can identify with the poet.
Yeats adopts a deliberately quaint and old fashion style lending the occasion a ceremony and seriousness ‘I will arise and go now to the Isle of Innisfree’. There is a timeless quality to the poem even though it was written in 1888. The ‘pavements gray’ could describe any dark, boring and dull place today. It may not even be a place, it could be a mindset that needs to end and a reflection on the need for refreshing the mind.
The long lines give the poem a stately leisured tone. We see that the poet will be at one with nature as he describes his beautiful hideaway ‘a small cabin I will build there of clay and wattle made, and a hive for the honeybee’. Colour, sounds and textures combine to make the world of the poem. The poet allows the reader to conjure up images of escaping the quick pace of modern day life and old romantic Ireland. He is confident that one day he will achieve this state of bliss in his world ‘I shall have some peace there’.
‘September 1913’ is another interesting and thought-provoking poem. Prompted by his anger at the country for refusing to house beautiful pieces of art, the Hugh Lane pictures, it expresses his private opinion in public. He is disillusioned with the Irish, especially the wealthy Catholic middle classes who were in general mercenary, small-minded and without vision.
The simple title is factual and roots the poem in Irish history. We quickly become aware that Yeats is unhappy with the way society is operating and he portrays people in an ugly light. He paints images of materialistic selfish people who equate money to prayer and will not stop until everything is gone ‘but fumble in a greasy till and add the half pence to the pence and pray to shivering prayer until you have dried the marrow from the bone’.
Yeats does not believe that men should give their lives to praying and saving, saving their souls or their money, or both. Line six is extremely ironic ‘for men were meant to pray and save’. An ideal Irishman for Yeats is John O’Leary and all others are measured against him. The poet longs for the return of romantic Ireland, to the time of myth and legend, long before materialism and selfishness, where one could be free, fired with ideas and idealism. At the time that this poem was written, he felt that there was no fire or energy in the people society was in a state of inertia with no individuals capable of leading and inspiring the people.
Yeats’ tone becomes even more bitter and dismissive as he announces ‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave. He laments the loss of this period in time. Deeply disillusioned and disappointed with the present, he compares the Ireland of now with the Ireland of the past. He admires the Irish heroes of the past who gave their life for the people who still evoke passion ‘the names that stilled your childish play’. He announces that these men were selfless and reckless ‘they have gone about the world like wind, but little time had they to pray for whom the hangman’s rope was spun’. This images suggest the inevitability of their deaths, their destiny and the price they paid in an...
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