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W.B. Yeats Poetry | Easter 1916

winwoodedu | Wednesday September 21, 2011

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Context

This poem was written as a reaction to the Easter Rising of 23-29 April 1916.

It was written in September 1916 when Yeats was staying with Maud Gonne MacBride at Les Mouettes, Calvados. In it he records his reactions to the Easter Rising in Dublin, when the city centre was occupied by a force of around 700 members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, led by Patrick Pearse, and members of the Citizen Army, led by James Connolly. They held out for 6 days – 15 of their leaders were sentenced by courts martial and executed between 3rd and 12th May. Yeats felt that the work of years – bringing together of different classes, the freeing of Irish literature from politics – had been overturned by the violence and he was ‘very despondent about the future.’

Structure

The poem has 4 stanzas, of varying lengths. This suggests a freedom on the part of Yeats in that he is not as rigid and controlled here as he usually is. This may be a reflection of the subject matter. There is a regular ABAB rhyme scheme, using both iambic tetrameter and iambic trimester.

Stanza 1

The word ‘them’ refers to the Irish revolutionaries or rebels to be. Yeats addresses the poem directly to the participants in the Easter Rising. The phrase ‘vivid faces’ shows that they are recognisable or striking in some way; in other words not ordinary.

The phrase ‘from counter or desk’ shows these are ordinary working men and women. The phrase ‘polite meaningless words’, which is repeated in lines 6 & 8, shows that Yeats thinks all that has been said and done before has had no meaning or effect. ‘the club’ is possibly the Arts Club, Dublin.

The phrase ‘But lived where motley is worn’ links Yeats himself and those he mixed with to clowns whose costume is often called motley; they said the ‘right’ things and told stories giving themselves ‘revolutionary’ credentials but they were merely ‘clowns’, fools or deluded.

The phrase...


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