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W.B. Yeats Poetry | The Fisherman

winwoodedu | Wednesday September 21, 2011

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Context

This poem was first published in 1916. The Fisherman is presented as the ‘ideal man’ with his country skills; he is also a symbol for Ireland – where Yeats believes the ideal man ‘exists’. It draws a contrast between Yeats’ ‘ideal Irishman’ and the real man of his contemporary Ireland. Yeats was a skilled fly fisherman and used this knowledge to develop the character of the fisherman.

Structure

The poem is written as a single stanza with a regular ABAB rhyme scheme, 3 stresses per line.

The word ‘him’ refers to both the idealised Irishman and the fisherman. The descriptive phrase ‘freckled man’ shows the rural, outdoor nature of the man; Yeats’ vision of an ideal Irishman coincided with an outdoor, rural person, working the land. This is the pure Irishman of Yeats’ vision. The phrase ‘grey place on a hill’ gives a sense of isolation and separation. ‘Connemara clothes’ are the same colour as ‘grey place’. This is homespun tweed; Connemara is in County Galway bordering the Atlantic, a rural part of Ireland. This shows the fisherman’s humble roots; he is unpolished, unsophisticated. The phrase ‘At dawn’ shows Yeats’ knowledge of angling; the best fishing is done at dawn. The phrase ‘wise and simple man’ again refers to the ideal man; this type of man is believed to have gained wisdom through simplicity.

‘what I had hoped ’twould be
To write for my own race’

These two lines show that Yeats wants his audience to be like the fisherman. The phrase ‘the reality’ shows Yeats moving from the ideal to the real; he lists what his audience is really like.

‘The living man that I hate,
The dead man that I loved.’

These two lines show balance – living and dead, hate and love. Yeats is disillusioned with reality; real Irishmen don’t meet his exacting standards. The dead man is probably Synge (1871-1909), a good friend of Yeats. ‘the craven man in his seat’ is a...


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