It is an unspoken assumption that when a country goes to war the men fighting are honored and also that there is a large amount of support given to the soldiers from that particular community. What is often over-looked is the fact that many of the men, who are partaking in battle, are in fact, boys who do not even know what they are fighting for. Also, the community is not always supportive and helpful unless they see a personal benefit that will affect them in a positive way as an outcome of the war. In “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”, Yeats introduces us to a man who is fighting in the war, not knowing what he is fighting for. Yeats also shows us, from a soldier’s view point, how a soldier feels while defending a country he does not feel any loyalty to, and how a soldier views the community he is laying his life on the line to protect.
It is apparent immediately in the beginning of the poem that this airman has a very bad attitude about the way this war is going. “I know that I shall meet my fate, Somewhere among the clouds above” (Yeats 154). The airman is saying that he knows, or senses, the fact that he will not make it out alive of this war. The reference made to “the clouds above” is simply reinforcing the fact that he is an airman in the war. These first two lines really set the tone for a poem that turns out to be a very somber, depressing piece of work. These two lines are symbolic of the airman’s attitude and take on life in general.
The third and fourth lines of the poem, “Those that I fight I do not hate, Those that I guard I do not love” (Yeats 154), tell us how he feels about the soldiers he is fighting against, and also how he feels a...
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... signs on life worth living in himself and sees no hope for a world where young men can sacrifice themselves for the good of their country, and in response, get virtually no response from the citizens at large.
This poem was written in memory of Lady Gregory’s son, Major Robert Gregory, who died on the Italian front in January of 1918. Its purpose is to show how damaging war can be and how unjust much of what happens during a war actually is. It does not make sense that a soldier may not even like the people he is fighting next to, and that he may be able to relate better to the enemy than to his own troops. Yeats, by writing this poem, made the reader conscious of the negative aspects of war.
Yeats, William Butler. “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Contained in, Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 2nd ed. New York, New York: 1988.
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