William Butler Yeats - His Treatment of Irish Concerns

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Discuss with reference to at least three poems, Yeats' treatment of Irish Concerns

Yeats changes his treatment of Irish concerns throughout his life and these changes are reflected in his poetry. Three poems that reflect these changes are 'September 1913', 'Easter 1916' and 'Under Ben Bulben'. These poems show a transpositions in political thought. In 'September 1913' Yeats shows his aversion to democracy and capitalism, and expresses his belief in an aristocratic society preferably governed by elite Protestants, as they had supremacy over Catholics in his view (Chaudhry, 33). The events of the Rising initiated a metamorphosis in Yeats. 'Easter 1916' shows how Yeats (usually not supportive of violence as a political movement) credited it with achieving something (Macrae 77). This poem enables us to see that Yeats' strong belief in politics is beginning to diminish. The last poem 'Under Ben Bulben' was written in Yeats' later stage of life. It shows how Yeats has transposed his treatment of Irish concerns over time, as now, in this poem he places the responsibility not upon the politician or the martyr, but on academia and literature to invoke the new Ireland.

'September 1913' is anti-Catholic in nature. Yeats centers the poem around the need for the new Catholic middle class to come to their senses "What need you, being come to sense" and to stop exiling Protestants "wild geese" to the Continent. In this poem Yeats tries to rekindle the passion for Nationalism that existed whilst John O'Leary was alive. He does this by installing a sense of guilt. "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone / Its with O'Leary in the grave", these lines repeated throughout the poem point out that the Nationalist cause is being forgotten because the leader is no longer there to enforce it. By doing this Yeats attempts to regain the impetus for Nationalism that once existed by making out that the cause O'Leary spent his life working for was fading away and would therefore make his efforts futile. The third stanza further reflects the idea that people need to rally behind the cause of literary nationalism as it discusses the Irish rebels who fought for Catholic emancipation. "For this that all that blood was shed / For this Edward Fitzgerald died / And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone / All that delirium of the brave?" These lines show how Yeats was ...

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...and fruitless. In 'Easter 1916' Yeats' treatment varies slightly. He is thrown into a state of turmoil as he tries to find a balance between the achievement of the Easter martyrs and the pacifist views he had previously upheld. He then accepts that death is sometimes advantageous but combats this with the argument that very little is worth sacrificing human life for. 'Under Ben Bulben' shows a mature, understanding Yeats. He believes in this poem that the power lies within the mind and turns to art to recruit nationalists. He makes a plea for artists to keep up past traditions as he views them as the means of remembrance. It is evident in these three poems that a transgression in Yeats' thought process and his treatment towards Irish concerns has taken place, and it reveals the road to self-discovery Yeats endured in his lifetime.

Works Cited

Chaudhry, Yug M. Yeats, the Irish Literary Revival and the Politics of Print. Cork: Cork University Press, 2001.

Macrae, Alasdair D. F. W. B. Yeats: A Literary Life. New York: St Martin's Press, 1995.

Malins, Edward. Yeats and the Easter Rising. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1965.

Yeats, William B. W. B. Yeats: Selected Poems. Ed. Timothy Webb.

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