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W.B. Yeats Poetry | Among School Children

winwoodedu | Wednesday September 21, 2011

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Context

This poem was written after a visit by Yeats in his capacity as a Senator to St Otteran’s School, Waterford in 1926. The school was run on Montessori principles.

Structure

The poem is 8 stanzas long with 8 lines per stanza. It is also written in ottava rima, a verse form Yeats used in Sailing to Byzantium. The subject matter is appropriate for this verse form – the changing face of man and mortality.

Stanza 1

Yeats walks through the school in the company of Mother Philomena who ran the school. He lists the children’s activities – reading, singing, history, sewing – and notes their staring at the ‘sixty year old smiling public man’ – Yeats himself.

The descriptive phrase ‘long schoolroom’ gives a sense of space. There is also a sense of pace; it will take time to walk through a ‘long schoolroom’. Another descriptive phrase, ‘kind old nun’, could be seen as a description of most nuns in Ireland, at least in the public mind.

The phrase ‘the best modern way’ shows the progressive nature of Montessori education. This is a child driven system of education with children choosing the activities they wanted to do within a framework. The phrase ‘momentary wonder’ shows that the children are caught up in a moment of wonder staring at their visitor. They probably had no idea who he was.

Stanza 2

Yeats’ thought turn to Maud Gonne. He imagines the present day Maud reminiscing with him about their childhood and Yeats gains some insight into that time of their lives. Yeats believed that by learning of her childhood they would achieve the perfect platonic friendship. He uses Plato’s idea from ‘Symposium’ that the male and female were identical at birth but grew apart as they developed. He uses the image of an egg – white and yolk are separate but one within the shell.

The phrase ‘Ledaean body’ associates Maud with Leda and by extension with Helen of Troy. This shows Yeats’ idealisation of...


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