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Essay on Disenchantment with the Modern Age in Yeats' No Second Troy

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Disenchantment with the Modern Age in Yeats' "No Second Troy"    

 
"No Second Troy" expresses Yeats' most direct vision of Maud Gonne, the headstrong Irish nationalist he loved unrequitedly throughout his life. The poem deals with Yeats’ disenchantment with the modern age: blind to true beauty, unheroic, and unworthy of Maud Gonne's ancient nobility and heroism. The "ignorant men," without "courage equal to desire," personify Yeats’ assignment of blame for his failed attempts at obtaining Maud Gonne's love. The poet's vision of his beloved as Helen of Troy externalizes his blame by exposing the modern age's lack of courage and inability to temper Maud Gonne's headstrong heroism and timeless beauty.

Yeats wrote this poem in December of 1908, comparatively early in his lifelong relationship with Maud Gonne. In a letter to his father dated December 29, 1908, Yeats writes from Paris and mentions lunching with Maud Gonne that afternoon . This is after a three year period in which Maud Gonne distanced herself socially after the failure of her first marriage in 1905. Despite his seeing Maud Gonne around the time he wrote the poem, and there being no documented disagreement, "No Second Troy" is in the past tense, indicating that he has given up on their romantic relationship.

The first half of the poem begins with the poet expressing his heightening disapproval of Maud Gonne's politics. He questions whether he should "blame her that she filled my days with misery." A. Norman Jeffares writes in W. B. Yeats that "the second line's 'of late' refers to Maud Gonne's withdrawal," but the poem seems to blame her inactivity on the "ignorant men" for not having "courage equal to desire," rather than her marital problems. These "ig...


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...his beloved's timelessness also appears in "Reconciliation." Yeats writes, "Some may have blamed you that you took away the verses," leading the poet to write about "kings, / Helmets, and swords, and have-forgotten things / That were like memories of you." These poems tie together the poet's vision of Maud Gonne as a woman misplaced in time, possessing, as Giorgio Melchiori writes, a "proud beauty and fire...in which a noble past clashes with a mediocre present."

"No Second Troy" attempts to deal with the failure of Yeats’ relationship with Maud Gonne without placing blame on either his beloved or himself. Instead, the poet criticizes the age in which they live, and blames its inability to sustain the burning of Troy for ideal beauty. In an age of "ignorant men" whose lack of courage cannot embrace Maud Gonne's stoic beauty, there is no second Troy to burn.

 


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