Cultural Criticism in W.B.Yeats’ An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

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Cultural Criticism in W.B.Yeats’ An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

The various levels of interpretation that a poet, such as W.B.Yeats, welcomes to his poems is difficult to grasp upon first reading his poetry. What appears to be a straight forward poem, such as, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, is actually an intellectual cultural criticism of Yeats’ modern day society. The poem, written as a testament to Lady Gregory’s son, captures the innermost concerns and perceptions of an Irish airman in World War I. However, through Yeats’ sentimental and poetic style, the poem incorporates a double meaning, and hence, focuses on Irish nationalism and its lack of an international consciencesness. The airman is Ireland personified, and his outlook on war and society is a window into the desolate situation that Ireland faces.

As the title suggests, there is a sense of imminent doom for the soldier (Ireland). He foresees his death, but has not yet experienced it and does nothing to prevent it. The poem is written in the first person which gives a first hand feel for the tragic loss that the Irish soldier will experience. (i.e. his own death). Yeats is making a subtle commentary on the state of his modern Ireland. He can foresee her doom, yet, unlike the subject of his poem, does not sit back and accept his fate. The lack of a unified republic in Ireland and the ominous presence of English colonization, stand in the way of progression for the Irish people. Yeats writes a poetry (specifically, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death) to open the eyes of the world to the shadow of desolation that covers Ireland like an umbrella. Lady Gregory’s son is used as a catalyst to project Yeats’ imagery of Ireland’s desperate situati...

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...otism is established in a seemingly simple testament to a dead soldier. What better way to honor the dead than to personify Lady Ireland through his character! The passion that Yeats subconsciously incorporates into his poem equals that of his love for Ireland. An Irish Airman Foresees His Death begins on a low and desperate note, but reaches its’ climax upon Gregory answering Ireland’s call, and ends by, essentially, posing a question to the reader. ‘As a collective people, which side of the teeter-totter do we belong?’ He leaves his hero (Gregory) hanging in the balance of an important national question. The poem may be about Yeats’ character foreseeing his death, but the fact remains: he is in the act of ‘foreseeing,’ he is not dead yet…and neither is Ireland.

Works Cited

Townshend, Charles. Ireland: The 20th Century. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.
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