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Acceptance of Death in Yeats’s ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his Death’ and Shakespeare’s ‘Come Away, Come Away, Death’

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W. B. Yeats’s poem ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his Death’ and Shakespeare’s poem ‘Come Away, Come Away, Death’ both deal with the theme of impending death, although by varying causes. While the poems employ similar figurative and sonic elements of language, their tone and style vary. Yeats’s poem is primarily a war poem that serves as an elegy for the Irish pilot Major Robert Gregory who died in WWI. As opposed to this Shakespeare’s poem is a lamenting love song sung by the character of Feste in Twelfth Night. Despite being different in setting, they both express an acceptance of death.

While both poems convey an awareness of death approaching, the causes of death are different. Shakespeare’s poem being a lament about unrequited love, deals with death by ‘a fair cruel maid’ (4). The awareness and acceptance of looming death is reflected in the opening two lines ‘Come away, come away death, | and in sad cypress let me be laid.’ (1,2). The repetition of ‘come away’ reflects the speaker’s readiness to face death, which is further echoed in the choice of word ‘let’. The speaker beseeches death to allow him to be laid to rest.

Similarly in Yeats’s poem, the awareness of death is expressed in the opening lines of the poem ‘I know that I shall meet my fate | Somewhere among the clouds above;’ (1,2). However, as opposed to Shakespeare’s poem, Yeats’s speaker is accepting death at the hands of war. ‘Somewhere among the clouds above’ (2) is a metaphor for death in battle in the sky. This idyllic description is in contrast to what it is referencing, which is a brutal death in war. The speaker’s acceptance of death is expressed in the closing line of the poem. He concludes that a life in which he faces death is more thrilling than a li...

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... not to mourn him. The rhythmic beat provided by the caesuras adds on to the continuous uniform rhyme scheme that forms the poem into a unified whole.

The simplicity of the rhyme scheme which is found in both poems, which creates the steady rhythm of the poem, contribute to the creation of a calm atmosphere, a certain calm in the face of death. While Shakespeare’s speaker seems more emotional, and Yeats’s more explanatory in tone, they both express a readiness to greet death. However different in style and context, both poems serve the same purpose for their speakers, an acceptance of death, Yeats’s acceptance of death as consequence of war and Shakespeare’s acceptance of death as a result of unrequited love.

Works Cited

The Norton Anthology of Poetry, ed. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, Jon Stallworthy, 5th edn (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005)
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