'a Prayer for My Daughter' 'Sailing to Byzantium' and 'the Long-Legged Fly' Analysis of William Butler Yeats

Topics: The Golden Bough, Soul, Stanza Pages: 8 (2856 words) Published: December 16, 2005
To contemporary readers, Yeats can seem baffling; he was opposed to the age of science, progress, democracy and modernization, and his occultist and mythological answers to those problems can seem horribly anachronistic for a poet who died barely sixty years ago, but what is strongly identifiable throughout Yeats writing his the personal honesty that he arrived at. In terms of the evolution of his poetic craft, With the brutal arrival of the new age of change of the First World War, Yeats believed his duty was to confront and speak to this new and ugly dispensation. With this reinvention of himself, Yeats' work combined elements of both the Romantics and the Modernist period rendering his poetry both personal and universal in its range. ‘A Prayer For My Daughter' exemplifies this as not simply does Yeats pray for the salvation of his daughter in troubled times but also explores the attributes he believes civilisation depends upon.

‘A Prayer For My Daughter' written shortly after the birth of his daughter, Anne, in 1919, is an exploration of not simply Yeats' own hopes and fears for his daughter but also an interpretation of the beliefs he saw to sustain civilisation during that era. In the opening stanza Yeats expresses a great anxiety over the frail protection, the mere ‘cradle-hood and coverlid' that shielded his child from the storm. The howling storm here does not simply speck of the elements but seems represent the turbulence of his own feelings and fears of the advent of the twentieth century during this time period millions have lost their lives from The Great War, the political conflict within Ireland as well as the advance of industrialisation and technology. This anxiety continues into the second stanza as he expresses his restless unease in contemplating her future and her world. A shift occurs the lines ‘imagining in a reverie' where the mood lifts from despair into one of contemplation; the next stanzas explore the values and ideals that Yeats believes will define a good person and sustain civilisation through times of turmoil.

The second stanza of the poem questions the gift of beauty; though he may wish beauty upon his child he warns of the dangers of enjoying too much beauty (this seems particularly relevant in Yeats writing due to his own experience with the beauty of Muad Gonne). Here Yeats recognises that an excess of beauty can ruin a women through no fault of her own but because of men who see beauty as the principal virtue of womanhood. Yeats asks for a beauty that does not ‘make a stranger's eye distraught' nor bring arrogance (‘or hers before a looking glass'); he states that beauty should not come between a person's ‘natural kindness' nor should it prevent her from a ‘heart-revealing intimacy'. And hence his next stanza makes references to both Helen of Troy and Aphrodite whom happiness eluded because of their peerless beauty (‘the horn of Plenty undone.'

The themes of Love explored within the following stanza contrasts distinctively with the Love explored within Yeats earlier work; Love is no longer an ideal or frenzied passion but rather a magnanimous and dignified emotion. Here Yeats extols upon the virtues of courtesy; Love, as he suggests does not come with those who are ‘entirely beautiful' but rather to those who can ‘charm' with ‘a glad kindness.' This informs the next stanza in which Yeats asks for his daughter to flourish but with a sense of reserve and self-awareness like a ‘flourishing hidden tree,' to be merry but to again exercise this happiness in a gracious manner. The final image of this stanza ends with Yeats equating the purity of daughter to the Linnets, frail birds which have no business but to sing and will only chase or quarrel in good humour.

In final stanza Yeats revels his own mistakes acknowledging that his life has been one where he has made errors in judgment in terms of love; he describes himself as ‘dried up of late' whom once has been ‘choked with...
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