Question: Write an essay on W. B. Yeats as a patriotic poet. Or, what attitude to politics does Yeats show in his poems that you have read? Or, discuss W. B. Yeats as a poet of Irish nationalism.
W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939) was first and foremost an Irish poet with a great love for his country. He was basically a patriotic poet rather than a nationalist movement aimed at freeing Ireland from English rule. The poet consciously revives Irish myth, folklore, saga, and legends in his poetry to show the rich cultural heritage of Ireland.
The theme of Irish Nationalism
In some of his poems, Yeats introduces the theme of Irish nationalism and the events related to it. His sense of nationalism and patriotic fervor is evident in “Easter 1916”. The poet here shows his veneration to the Irish nationalists who laid out their lives for the sake of their country. On Easter morning of 1916, Irish nationalists launched a revolt against the British government. The revolt was unsuccessful and a number of nationalists were executed. Yeats knew some rebels personally. In this poem, he mentions their names – Conolly, Gore-booth, Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacBride, and Major John MacBride. It may be that those persons had led a comic and ordinary life earlier. But their sacrifice has given meaning to their lives and as a result, a terrible beauty is born. These people are like stone. A stone in-stream is not subject to the change. In the same way, these people embody the eternal human quality – sacrificing one’s life for the sake of others. Their permanent stone-like quality can trouble the lives of other people. This why the poet says;
“Heart with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.”
Such praise to the nationalists reveals Yeats’ patriotic zeal. Yeats’ poem “September 1913”, “To a Friend whose Work has Come to Nothing”, “To a Shade”, and many other poems are written with patriotic fervor for his country.
Anarchy of imperialism
Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” deals with the idea that history and civilization move in a cyclical course with regular ups and downs. Yeats seems to say that the best moment of Christian civilization is coming to an end, paving the way for disorder and chaos.
“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world ….”
It may seem that the poet is hinting at the anarchy in Ireland caused by the imperial rule of England.
Representation of Irish countryside
Yeats’ patriotic fervor finds expression in his attempt to highlight the countryside, folklore, tradition, mythology, and above all the culture of Ireland. Yeats spent his boyhood and youth in the countryside of Sligo from where he got the knowledge of the peasants and their folklore. These folk elements abound in Yeats’ poetry. For example, his poems “The Madness of King Goll” and “Easter 1916” rest on the Irish legend. Again, the poem “The Wild Swans at Coole”, “A Prayer for My Daughter”, and “Lake Isle of Innisfree” combine Irish countryside with Irish folk beliefs and legends. “The Wilde Sawn at Coole” captures the serene beauty of nature. As the poet says:
“The trees in the autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky”.
In this way, the subject matter of Yeats’ poetry is closely woven into the natural landscape of Ireland.
Irish culture and tradition
Yeats Highlights the long-cherished customs and traditions of Ireland. He possessed deep-rooted respect for the Irish aristocracy. In “A Prayer for My Daughter”, he wants for her daughter a husband whose family would respect traditional custom, as the poet asks:
“How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?”.
Yeats seems to say that the Irish tradition, customs, literature, and art are part of its long-cherished culture. Yeats’ poem ceaselessly focuses on those aspects of Irish culture and thus he helps his countrymen to imagine Ireland as a nation.
Click here: For more notes of poetry
From the above discussion, it is evident that Yeats feels an inherent love for his country. In his personal life as well as in his works, he does not hesitate to show his love for Ireland. He deals with the issue of the political independence of Ireland. At the same time, he focuses on the Irish culture richness, by presenting its folklore, legend, myths, and history. All these show his emotional ties with his country. Undoubtedly, he is a patriotic poet.