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W.B. Yeats Poetry | The Man and the Echo

| Wednesday September 21, 2011

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Context

This poem was written in 1938, just before Yeats’ death.

Structure

The poem is written as a conversation between the man and an echo. It is composed of rhyming couplets which is the simplest rhyme form.

Stanza 1

The word ‘Alt’ is a rocky fissure at Knocknarea, County Sligo. The phrase ‘broad noon has never lit’ suggests a dark, secluded place.  This is an alliterative phrase ‘shout a secret to the stone’ ; ‘shout’ suggests a public declaration but by shouting at ‘the stone’ the man keeps his secret while making it public.

The phrase ‘all that I have said and done’ suggests making a confession. Why does the man ‘lie awake night after night’ – insomnia or guilt? The phrase ‘never get the answers right’ gives a sense of the man searching for some truth at the end of his life. ‘that play’ refers to ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’ (1902), a one act play in which a woman, personifying Ireland, incites a young bridegroom to armed rebellion and death.

The phrase ‘certain men the English shot’ refers to the leaders of the Easter Rising; Yeats is wondering if he incited them to rebellion through the words of his play. ‘that woman’s reeling brain’ refers to the actress Margot Ruddock; Yeats had an affair with her and he and Georgie helped her when she went mad in Barcelona. Here is ‘a house’ which is Coole Park, demolished by the Irish Forestry Commission. Yeats is wondering if he could have used the power of his words to prevent this happening.

The phrase ‘lie down and die’ are the last words of the man which are repeated by the echo. It seems as if the echo is telling the man to give up on his life.
‘spiritual intellect’s great work’ is the making of a man’s soul.

The phrase ‘no release in a bodkin or disease’ includes an archaic word; bodkins were daggers, often associated with suicide through Hamlet Act 3 scene 1. The idea here is that death will bring a release,...


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