“Vacillation” is a poem by William Butler Yeats that explores the source of joy and how it can only be achieved if one understands what grief is. The poem begins with the speaker using extremities to question what exactly joy is. In the second stanza of the poem Yeats introduces a mystic tree that is half burning in flames and is half abounding with foliage. In the third and fourth stanzas the persona advises the readers to gather all possible materialistic wealth, destroy it, lament over it, and then reflect upon those achievements, as genuine happiness can only originate from the grief one receives from acknowledging their achievements of the past. Through personification, ominous imagery, and the imperative tense Yeats accentuates that grief and joy are two extremities and that to appreciate joy one must understand grief.
The first two lines of the section one introduce an imposing tone that is established by the speaker bluntly stating that “between extremities/ man runs his course” (1-2). The statement suggests that humans live between the extremities such as life and death. By using “man runs” (2) the speaker suggests that humans keep away from extremities such as birth and death. The stanza continues with the persona referring to a “brand or flaming breath” (3) or a divine being that destroys all the apparent extremities of “day and night” (6). The destruction of the apparent extremities implies that day and night are not meant to be extremities as day leads on to night, and night leads on to day, and thus forms a cycle. The body “calls” (7) the destruction of antimonies “death” (7) and the heart calls it “remorse” (8). The effect of the personification of the body and heart is anticipated as the body and heart are both metaphors. The body is a metaphor for a physical being that feels death, which is the corporal end, and the heart is a metaphor for the emotional being that feels remorse, which is the emotional end. The persona finishes the first...
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