The Gazebo in “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz”

When talking about “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz” today, we identified the gazebo at the end of the poem as a reference to man-made aspects of life such as Time and Death itself. This would of course make sense in relation to the fact that the speaker wants to burn these aspects down. Man should be purified from these elements to be able to really live life. The match the speaker strikes and the purifying ability of the flames then also reminds us of the flames described in “Byzantium”.

However, I thought that the gazebo can also represent Ireland itself in relation to England. England then being the larger, more powerful house or mansion. This reference to England taking on the metaphorical role of parent, and Ireland subsequently being the child, can also be related to the almost childlike rhymes the poem ends with, and with which the word ‘gazebo’ is surrounded;  ‘Time-climb’, ‘match-catch’, ‘know-blow’, and ‘built-guilt’. The match then could represent the desire to burn the present submissive attitude Ireland has towards England, and be able to grow into the fully adult and independent nation Ireland can be.

Furthermore, when thinking about gazebos, mansions and matches the reader cannot help to be reminded of the large amount of mansions which were burnt down in the Irish civil war, one being Lady Gregory’s mansion.

Aestheticizing The Countrymen: Yeats as a Literary Revivalist

As my research for the paper has expanded and sprawled out in front of and beyond, research for any literary work tends to do, I’ve come across critics and authors who have looked at Yeats and other irish revivalists as contributors to a “debilitating, parasitic Irish cultural discourse.” In order to revive Irish nationalism and ultimately Irish art, the revivalists needs to create an Irish authentic, a quintessential center for  the irish identity. The building up of such a center would spill over and expand into nationalist politics,  the active use of the gaelic language, and irish art: all things that, we could argue, strengthen an Irish identity in the face of English oppression, and the preservation of Irish culture. In what way, then could this process of creating an irish authentic be perceived as “debilitating and parasitic?”

The buiIding of a cultural center requires raw materials, and Yeats, along with Gregory, Hyde, Synge, and many others,  looked to  the irish peasantry for a return to “true ireland.” As discussed in class, nationalism seeking a “true anything” can never exist in the present, but draws heavily on the past in order to create symbols and meaning from prior experience. For their newfound nationalism and literary revival, Yeats and his contemporaries drew upon the countryfolk for Irish symbols and customs that could operate as a kind of cultural synecdoche. Within his article on “The Imaginary Irish Peasant,” Edward Hirsch addresses the process by which the revivalists aestheticized the Irish peasantry so as to turn them into literary objects. This reductive centering of the Irish country people simultaneously homogenized various economic gradients and glorified poverty: as Hirsch notes, the revivalists didn’t seem to care so much about what peasants were, but rather what they represent. Regardless of economic clime, the revivalists sought to create a unified, undifferentiated entity of peasantry: Yeats drew on the peasantry as literary art Cathleen ni Houlihan, while Synge manifested the wandering tramp. Irish country folk, as it turns out, were the hosts of what many critics call “the parasitic Irish cultural discourse.”

The 60th Swan at Coole

In the poem “The Wild Swans at Coole”, Yeats is staring at and meditating on the nature of swans, which we judged in-class to  symbolize a combination of eternal love and the representation of the anti-self. I believe that the number fifty-nine has significance, beyond the idea that Yeats himself is represented by the 59th swan that doesn’t have a paired lover; instead of this reading, which contextualizes the swans in fundamental absence, Yeats himself is visualizing himself as the other part of that  59th swan’s love.  In this reading, the swans, with Yeats added into their number, come to sixty entities within the text. This number draws obvious connections to seconds and minutes, playing on the idea of time which I believe to be the main theme of this text.

The swans are objects that Yeats looks at, hears, and senses – but he enjoys them perhaps most when he can externalize his own feelings of desire for companionship, which in the 4th stanza, he judges to be the antithesis of weariness and old age. Additionally, Yeats admires the swans’ power of choice, between “passion or conquest” and the ability to “wander where they will,” impassioned by their agency over the world and their Selves. These traits are the antithesis of what Yeats has been feeling recently in his old age, adding to his construction of the shadow-self as the 60th swan.

However, in the final stanza, Yeats asks where the swans will be, and whom they will delight, when he awakes one day to see that they are gone. This implicit sadness is not necessarily from remarking upon Yeats’s own death and removal as the 59th swan, but upon the lack of control that he has over these creatures that he wishes to identify with. They will continue on, outside of time, and Yeats knows that they will bring the same degree of happiness to other men – later, in other settings – as they do to him, as they are a symbol of the externalization of his desires. This final realization distances Yeats even further from uniting with his anti-self, as he knows that his desire to externalize is commonplace in humans – adding to his connection to the human race and thereby undercutting any potential to join the natural world.

Yeats and Raptors

Yeats poems are full of raptors, full of birds in general, really. There are so many bird moments and bird poems that it’s easy to forget just how much these collections use bird images or symbols.  It can be tough to see if one never had the interest to look into nictitating membranes or how falconers tame hawks, but Yeats is surprisingly accurate in his portrayal of hawks and falconry.

There are many diverse instances where birds are used as huge images or symbols or for an aesthetical impact, like the tundra swan’s mournful locator call, or the swallow’s uncanny agility in the air, or the fierce maternal instinct of the gallinule, or moorhen, or the hypnotically iridescent plumage of the peacock and its freakish scream. However, raptors are almost always mentioned in relation to falconry. Falconry has a great bank of images for Yeats to draw on, especially that of the spinning gyre and the unblinking eye of the sitting hawk. It doesn’t hurt that falconry also puts him in the aristocratic lexicon and the image of privilege can resonate or contrast with other images.

Yeats clearly knows that hunting raptors ride slowly upwards in a spiral, or gyre, pattern, and uses hawks and falcons a few times to conjure his vision of cosmic gyres. In “The Second Coming,” this is a core image. He knows that hawks and eagles moisten their eyes with a transparent nictitating membrane, though he, as most people, would not call it that. He is at least aware that they appear not to blink while they’re awake. As symbols for logic and reason, physiological rigidity does indeed lend them an air of intense dispassion, besides unnerving everyone in the room. Their nictitating membranes are also the foundation of the myth that hawks and eagles can stare unblinkingly into the sun, a myth that appears in “Upon a House Shaken by the Land Agitation.”

Yeats also knows enough about falconry to know which hawks are used by the highest aristocracy in Europe for hunting. It is disappointing that he doesn’t cash in on some incredible puns in their names. Case in point, the gyrfalcon, named for exactly the spiral shape it symbolizes, is the most prized of hunting birds and is the species most likely to be used, say, by the highest aristocracy of Egypt. The falcon in the opening of “The Second Coming” is most likely a gyrfalcon, since a peregrine or a lanner would be too cheap for a prince hunting within sight of the sphinx.

“The Hawk” is a small poem right after “The Fisherman” on page 149 of the Finneran. “Let [the hawk] be hooded or caged / Till the yellow eye has grown mild,” Yeats says, apparently aware that hawks become more and more complacent as they age in a falconer’s care. He also seems aware that young accipiter, or woodland hawks, if indeed this is one, have yellow eyes when they are young. Though he doesn’t explicitly say it, the eye turns red as the hawk becomes fully mature. After this age, accipiter hawks really are quite mild. Some can even be handled without a glove. As Yeats implies in his poem, a pacified hawk has lost a lot of its fierce dignity.

Misogyny & Fatherhood: Yeats’s Daughter Willed to “become a flourishing hidden tree” … What?!


Before embarking on Yeats’s “A Prayer for my Daughter,” I originally thought it sweet that Yeats felt an urge to “dedicate” a poem to his daughter. After further reading, I realize the morphed perspective Yeats seems to take—not only in terms of his daughter, but in his assumed perception of Irish womanhood. While the piece begins with the juxtaposition of a violent, “howling” storm contrasted with his peaceful, sleeping daughter, the reader soon awakens to a higher degree of critical awareness that is unsettling to any feminist critic.

In stanza four, Yeats calls to mind “that great queen that rose out of the spray” (Aphrodite, most likely) and “Helen [who] found life flat and dull,” (Helen, who is often painted as the “indirect cause of the Trojan war”). In doing so, he seems to attempt to warp the narrative of female mythology to embody an over-all sense of disruption and folly. Embedded in Yeats’s fourth stanza seems to be the implication that throughout history (and suggestively, in the life of Yeats himself) women only contribute the façade of alluring beauty that inevitably leads to misfortune (here we go again with resentment toward Maud Gonne).

In this vein, it seems to me that Yeats’s “A Prayer for my Daughter” is code for “I wish I had a son Instead.” Am I taking this too far? Had I been the daughter of Yeats, I would be disheartened to read that my opinionated, impassioned father wished me to believe that “opinions are accursed.” In other words, Yeats does not believe that his daughter is capable of generating opinions worthy of contemplation or engagement??? This line of thought leads me to pose a question: would Yeats have written the same poem had his child been male? I’m not convinced.

Taking my argument further is the notion of traditional Irish womanhood—the current by which Yeats seemingly supports (and even encourages) woman’s quiet, grey role in the Irish home. For example, the poem’s last stanza: “may her bridegroom bring her to a house/ Where all’s accustomed.” One faulty element to these lines is the presupposed identity that Yeats projects onto his infant daughter: she will be attracted to a man, will marry said man, will make an “accustomed” and “ceremonious” home with this man, her “bridegroom”… These lines also seem to uphold the notion that women cannot successfully exist in society as independent beings—they need both an “accustomed house” and a “bridegroom” to be admissible in the mouth of societal dogma…

I can see how Yeats’s misfortunate experiences with Maud Gonne could influence his view of women… but it’s no excuse in my eyes. It is my contention that by writing his poem—and overtly assigning it to his own daughter—Yeats dangerously propagates a misogynistic view of women, belittling his own child in the process.

Is Yeats too English?

The Arthurian language in “The Fisherman” threw me off a little. Medieval chivalry, Arthurian legend, and the dueling tradition of calling someone out as “knave” and “craven” is about as English as it gets. When W.B. Yeats uses English mythology to write poems about his ideal image for Ireland, we can’t help but think that he must be joking. “The craven man in his seat, / the insolent unreproved, / and no knave brought to book” he writes, in mockery of the Irish middle class. Knowing his attitude toward the bourgeois, we can only read the mockery as sincere. But it is the usage of Arthurian language in the first place that is ironic. I realized that medieval language is only highly suggestive of medieval Anglo traditions, not necessarily Arthurian England in particular. However, the language still suggests the chivalry and dueling tradition within Anglicized Europe. In using words that sound Arthurian as the most Irish of Irish figures, he underscores a core paradox of Irish cultural nationalism, that all of the poems, plays and songs, in order to be digestible by a gentrified audience, must be in English. The whole project of resurrecting and preserving an Irish national spirit with English tools is fundamentally paradoxical.

Nationalism in “The Only Jealousy of Emer”

When reading “The Only Jealousy of Emer” it may not seem to be a nationalistic play, however, if you interpret Emer to be a representation of Ireland, it can be. Emer remains faithful to Cuchulain, despite the fact that he has courted other women because she knows that eventually he will tire of these other women. She knows he loved her once, and will always love her. That being said, if Emer represents Ireland in this scenario, one could argue that Cuchulain represents the people of Ireland. Ireland knows her people love her and will always love her, even if, at the moment, the people feel loyal to another country. Eventually the people of Ireland will tire of their “mistress” country and return to their beloved Ireland. In the mean time, just as Emer refused to give up her hope that he will return to her in exchange for the life of her husband, Ireland refuses to give up hope that her people will come back to her in order to save their lives. Even if her people die, Ireland knows they love her, and she loves them in return. Of course, this was not exactly what Yeats had intended when he wrote the play, saturated in references to his own life and his own loss, but the undertones are still there.

The Curse of Heterogeniety

I (being a somewhat politically-minded sort) noticed some parallels between the Yeats’ observations on the problems with the various Irish Nationalist movements and similar groups in the present and recent past. Simply put, the “Curse of Heterogeneity” Yeats decries (and wrote The Only Jealousy of Emer in a sort of protest to) is what brings down a lot of movements that seek changes in the social order; it’s why the Tea Party movement gained so much ground and became a major force in American politics while the Occupy Wall Street protests (and those they spurred elsewhere in the world) largely went nowhere: Progressive politics can mean many things, while the message of Conservativism is very simple and easy to swallow. “We want to change things” can’t be a rallying cry because it demands further specificity, while “keep things the way they are” (while not terribly catchy) tells you all you need to know.

Yeats, having orbited Maude Gonne, written plays with Augusta Gregory, and watched Synge and other Irish poets try and fail to spark a sustainable revolution, had seen this factionalism doom Irish culture to what seemed to him a slow, painful, middle-class death. His trepidation was understandable.

Stage Directions in The Only Jealousy of Emer

Yeats gives extremely specific stage directions in The Only Jealousy of Emer, which is unusual in the plays that I’ve read. Now I’m not a drama expert, but I found it strange that the stage directions were so specific about the costumes of the musicians being exactly the same as in The Dreaming of the Bones, and the dance scene with the Sidhe was so specific about her metallic appearance and her other-than-human qualities. In other respects of staging, however, Yeats is purposefully ambiguous, as in his including in the stage directions that “The stage as before can be set against the wall of any room.” In either case, Yeats is very controlling of what his play will look like, because he wants it to affect his audiences in a specific way. He imagines that there is a single formulaic way to do that and he includes the critical elements of that formula in stage directions.

I have been told that stage directions are often tossed to the wind when actually putting on a play, and that playwrights are generally aware of this, so that they provide only very general stage “suggestions” more than stage “directions.” Not so with Yeats. He writes so much of his own vision into this play that it would be tough for lots of different directors to stage it differently. I think therein lies the point, that Yeats imagines his plays as art that does something, that pushes audiences’ buttons in specific ways to achieve a specific effect. For example, including in a stage direction that the stage can be in any room invites people to put on the play in garages, shops and warehouses and not just theaters. If the working class takes Yeats up on his offer and produces the play in local underground, this would diversify his audience and possibly attract the lower class to his and the cultural nationalists’ vision for Ireland. Specifically including that the Woman of the Sidhe should look otherworldly, “more an idol than a human being,” nicely epitomizes Yeats’ vision for how women are to be used in his art, as symbols rather than people. Yeats wants to make absolutely sure that exactly his vision for the play is what audiences see, to that they are affected in exactly the way that he has calculated.

Yeats’ Reading of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

Here’s a link to a recording of Yeats reading “The Lake Isle of Inisfree”

Yeats’ own reading of this poem is really interesting in that it definitely changes how I first thought of the poem. Initially, “Innisfree” sounded like a homage to romanticism with beautiful nature imagery and even an allusion to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden with the line “Nine bean rows will I have there.” However, Yeats’ reading drones on almost as if he is grieving, which would make sense since he wrote “Innisfree” in 1888, during his early period when he was young and idealistic, and this recording is from 1935, closer to the end of his life and after his transition into a much more bitter and disillusioned phase. Moreover, it’s worth pointing out that Yeats was inspired to write “Innisfree” by a water advertisement, which is like the total antithesis of what you would consider romantic. How did this recording change your reading?