Yeats Treatment of myth and history

Question: Discuss W.B Yeats Treatment of myth and history.


In classical Greek, “mythos” signified any story or plot, whether true or invented. According to its central modern significance, a myth is a system of hereditary stories of ancient origin that was once believed to be true by a particular cultural group. On the other hand, history is the happened fact. Myth and history form an integral part of W.B Yeats’ poetry.

Yeats’ handling of myth

The myth that Yeats (1865-1939) has used extensively in his poems is directly derived from the source of the legend of Irish heroism. He has wholly absorbed this mythology and made it a part of his imagination. He believes that literature is not only imbued with passion and ancient beliefs are always in danger of degeneration, which he calls the Chronicle of Situation or Emotional Imagination.

“Easter 1916”: The poem “Easter 1916” is based on Irish mythology and Irish politics. In this poem, we see Yeats’s myth-making imagination at work. He transforms and modifies old myths to suit his purpose; he even creates new myths. The opening lines of the poem convey an impression that some legendary figures are coming out of the dead past to take part in the preset activity.

Maud Gonne related to myth: Many of Yeats’s poems show his love for Maud Gonne. In his poems, we also find the theme of intellectual hatred. According to the poet, Maud Gonne had intellectual hatred because of which she acted foolishly and ruined her happiness by marrying John Mac Bride, a worthless vainglorious lout. Here Maud Gonne is symbolically compared with Helen. The beautiful city Troy was destroyed for her foolishness.  Thus Maud Gonne symbolically becomes a mythological representator of Helen in modern age.  So, the poet symbolically wishes that his daughter should avoid the fault of the Maud Gonne- intellectual hatred.

Yeats’ handling of history

Yeats’ handling of history is philosophic and far-reaching. Among the poems which give expression to Yeats’s sense of history are poems like “The Second Coming, September 1913, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen and Eater 1916.

Focusing on the cycles of civilization: The poem “The Second Coming” is a good illustration of Yeats’s theory of the rise and fall of civilization. This poem is most remarkable for the expression of his notion that history consists of cycles. Every civilization has a time span of its own. According to him, the present cycle of history began with the birth of Christ, but it is about to end. He suggests that the present cycle of history is likely to be replaced by another cycle which is the ruling authority that can be very terrifying and cruel.

The contemporary history of Ireland: Easter 1916 deals with the contemporary history of Ireland. The Easter Rising of 1916 had taken Yeats by surprise. He came to hate those who were very revolutionary, but they achieved heroic dignity. It seemed to Yeats that a terrible beauty had been born. It was then that he realized that these Irishmen had achieved a permanence which he set down to celebrate in this poem. The intensity of heroism crossed the normal life cycle and gained stability in the midst of flux or instability.

“Hearts with one purpose alone

Through summer and winter seem

Enchanted to a stone

To trouble the living stream.”

In this way, Yeats praises the rebel heroes for displaying his strong patriotic intent.

Reflection of aesthetic and practical life: The most acclaimed poem, “Sailing to Byzantium,” is a vivid reminder of Yates’ keen interest in the historical city of the Eastern Empire and its significance with its art and culture. To Yeats, Byzantium meant that moment in history when religious, aesthetic, and practical life was something that could never be achieved before or after recorded history. Therefore, the journey of the poet is allegorical to bring peace and unity to society.

Attitude to social and romantic issue: “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” is a product of Yeats’s reflection upon the changes brought about by the violence which followed the Easter Rising. His attitude is social and romantic.

“But is there any comfort to be found?

Man is in love, and love’s what vanishes.

What more is there to say?”


Yeats is really capable of handling myths and history because he believed in his own personal and every personal idea about history and mythology. What is most remarkable is the wonderful poetic use.

Click here: For all notes of poetry

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
Articles: 380

One comment

  1. Alhamdulillah i am over the moon to find such a important notes by you honourable sir. Take love from core of my heart.
    I am from Gaibandha Govt College. Masters session 2020-21. Keep me in your prayer.

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