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W.B. Yeats Poetry | September 1913

winwoodedu | Wednesday September 21, 2011

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Context

This poem was first published, unsurprisingly, in 1913 and was inspired by the dispute over the Lane art gallery in Dublin; Hugh Lane wished to present his collection of French paintings to Dublin but there was disagreement about whether the City should provide or pay for a gallery to house them.

Structure

4 stanzas, 8 lines in each. The last 2 lines of each stanza form the refrain. A regular rhyme scheme is used which shows the control that Yeats’ displays in much of his poetry.

Stanza 1

The use of ‘you’ means the Irish people in general; newly rich, middle class Catholics in particular. Yeats often sees them as philistines, perhaps undeserving of the art which has been bequeathed to them. The ‘greasy hill’ is commerce, the means by which the middle classes gained wealth. It is seen as dirty, soiled, tainted, literally Filthy Lucre! ‘add the halfpence to the pence’ means adding small amounts to larger amounts, thereby accumulating wealth. This links with the idea of looking after the pennies; penny pinching perhaps? This is not a very flattering picture of the Irish merchant class. The phrase ‘prayer to shivering prayer’ shows the perceived piety of Catholics and the Irish masses. There may be a link to the Biblical/Christian idea of poverty and giving wealth away (rich man passing through the eye of a needle). ‘Shivering’ refers to the cold in churches. This would be its literal meaning; it may also connote fear.

The phrase ‘dried the marrow from the bone’ means extracting the last vestige/very essence of a thing, taking out everything it is possible to take. In the phrase ‘men were born to pray and save’ there is sarcasm – Yeats didn’t believe that this was the only reason men were born, linking with his interest in the occult and reincarnation and he was more interested in creating a ‘beautiful soul’ than acquiring money. Yeats was not a materialist, he saw himself as the Last...


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