Showing posts with label W.B. Yeats. Show all posts
Showing posts with label W.B. Yeats. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Yeats’s Views on History as Expressed in 'Gyre' and 'The Second Coming'

Yeats had a particular view about history and civilization. He believed that the process of history was a cyclic one. He compared it to the movement of rapidly rotating gyres or cones. The gyres spin swiftly round a fixed centre. Their circumference widens as they rotate and ultimately disintegration sets in. The disintegration begins at the circumference, and then gradually reaches the centre. Yeats’s this view of history was expressed in ‘’The Second Coming’’ and ‘’The Gyre’’.

The Second Coming expresses Yeats’ philosophy of history. He believed that the present cycle of history began two thousand year ago with the birth of Christ and the revelation. Previous to that there was the Grecio-Roman Civilisation, which in its turn began in 200 B.C. with the mating of god Zeus with Leda. Helen and Glytemestra were born as a result of this union and then followed the various events narrated in the Homeric epics. Hellenic civilisation broke down after a life of two thousand years ago. Christ came and a new civilisation was born out of the ruins  of the earlier one. Similarly, the Christian civilisation has nearly run its course of the two thousand years , and so believes Yeats, a Second coming is at hand. History repeats itself, though always with a difference. The present wheel of history has come full circle, and out of its ruin a new civilisation is taking shape. To us the birth of the new may appear as the doom of the old; its values may appear to us monstrous and terrifying, the very thought may be a nightmare to us but certain it is that a change is in the offing, and it is possible that the future is already being shaped in some remote, far off region.

All this and much more is condensed in this remarkable poem of twenty-five lines, and it is this condensation which makes it prophetic almost apocalyptic in its impact. The poem begins abruptly, as if the poet is seeing a vision and expressing it. As if in a trance, the poet sees a gyre or cone rotating rapidly round a fixed centre. Its circumference gradually widens and ultimately even the centre fails to controlits movements. Disintegration sets in; “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” The falconer has lost control over the falcon which does not hear his call. Falcon symbolises the intellect and falconer the soul or the spiritual and emotional part of man. Intellect-science, technology, rationalism- is too much with us, and it is taking us towards total destruction. As a result, mere anarchy has been let loose upon the world. There is bloodshed and violence every-where. “The blood-dimed tide,” carries  with it a suggestion of blind passion and evokes the image of the Great Biblical flood and the havoc which it caused. Everywhere the traditional and aristocratic way of life, a way which has always fostered purity and innocence, is in danger of extinction. The best, the wisest, the aristocratic have lost all faith and conviction, and the masses are fanatical, irrational and violent.

All this decadence and disorder implies that a new civilisation is about to be born. Just as God incarnated himself in the form of Christ when the Grecio-Roman civilisation broke down two thousands years ago, so also the Second Coming of the God seems to be at hand. A Second incarnation seems to be in the offing. As soon as this thought flashes across the poet’s mind he sees the image of some vast form coming out of Spiritual Mundi, a kind of storehouse of images in Yeats’ philosophy. This huge form has the body of a lion and the head of a man. It is seen coming out of some far desert and moving slowly with a clumsy, awkward movement towards Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, as if it, too would be born there. This figure is so monstrous, so nightmarish, that the birds fly before it in terror. The monster has a pitiless, blank look as if it were the symbol of the inexorable, pitiless violence, and its birth is the death of the present civilisation.

Another poem that  expresses Yeats’ philosophy of history is The Gyres.  The Gyres was published posthumously in the Last Poems and Plays(1936-39). Some of the best of these last poems are written out of his brooding over history and the cotemporary scene. The years from 1936 to 1939 were years of frustration, years of growing realization that another war was in the offing and war hysteria and the fear of air raids kept on mounting. The atmosphere was tense, and the worst was apprehended. In one poem after another, Yeats broods over the impeding crisis, and speaks with detachment and aloofness as if he were a voice outside Time. In the Gyres he foresees the end of civilization, for his philosophy of history as a cyclic process, as a revolution of Gyres, gives him hope and confidence. The Old Rocky Face, a sculptured stonehead, symbolizes the poet’s inner consciousness,’ stillness in the centre of Time’s flux, and the impassive gaze of the poet. The poet stands aloof like the Rocky face, likes up the present with three thousand years of history, and sees physical and moral downfall.

What matter though numb nightmare rides on top
And blood and mire the sensitive body stain

And further,

Conduct and work grow coarse and coarse the soul

But all this does not matter. The poet does not despair: he does not give way to pessimism. Rooted in his philosophy of the cyclic process of history, and revolutions of the ears, the poet is sure that what has been, must be once again, and the old values he loves are sure to revive, for,

The workman, noble and saint, and all things run,
On the unfashionable gyre again.

In his earlier poetry he had escaped from the present into a fairyland; now his philosophy itself becomes a sort of fairyland providing him with an escape from the frustrations of the present.

Thus, these two poems namely The Second Coming and The Gyres express Yeats’ philosophy of history.

W.B. Yeats’s Poems Demonstrate a Tension between the Permanent and the Mutable

W. B. Yeats envisions a paradise of intellectual everlastings and underlying youth in the symbol of Byzantium

W.B. Yeats, like John Keats, views art superior to life.To him spiritual life is true life and the world of art contrasts the mundane world. The spirit is immortal and art too is regarded by Yeats as timeless and eternal. This view of art and life was developed by Yeats in his two Byzantium poems namely The Sailing to Byzantium and Byzantium. The first poem is a picture of a voyage from the material world to the holy city of eternity. The second is a vision of the city from the inside where the soul is depicted first as a walking mummy and then as the emperor’s golden bird “whose glory of changeless metal” is contrasted with the “complexities of mire and blood.” In the second poem, Byzantium is a place of cleansing flames.  

 Byzantium, now called Constantinpole or Istambul, was the capital of Eastern wing of the Holy Roman Empire. It was noted for is art, specially mosaic work, and gold enam welling. However, in the poem, it is no real city but a country of the niwol outside time and Nature, a utopia, a retreat from the process of ageing and decaying. It is a symbol, “of the world of intellect and the spirit.”

The first poem in the Byzantium series is The Sailing to Byzantium. It is a highly symbolic poem. Byzantium represents the world of intellect, spirit and art. An old man cannot be happy or at peace in the world of the senses. He should therefore withdraw to an ideal world where he can be happy in the midst of “monuments of unageing intellect” and where his soul will be transformed into a golden bird singing upon a golden bough to the lords and ladies of Byzantium. On that golden bough the old man will himself become one of those monuments which he has so admired.

The poet realizes that an old man is a contemptible figure, a mere “taterred coat upon stick,” unless he devotes himself to the study and enjoyment of art. The older he grows, the greater should be his devotion to art. Appreciation and understanding of art can be achieved only by studying magnificent and immortal works of art. Since Byzantium is the traditional home of art, the poet has decided to devote himself to the study of its rich treasures.

Therefore, the poet sails for Byzantium and as soon as he reaches there, he prays, not to God, but to God’s saints to come down from heaven and teach him the appreciation of art. The sages are great artists of Byzantium who created in the pas “monuments of unageing intellect,”. He visualizes them standing in God’s “holy fire,” like figures in mosaic work, standing against a background of pure gold. The fire is a symbol of purification, and it does them no harm for they are supernatural. The poet invokes them to come down with a rapid spiral-movement and to teach him how to enjoy the beauty of art.

 Sailing to Byzatium reflects the poet’s interest in Byzantine art and culture. Byzantium in this poem becomes a symbol of a perfect world. Rejecting this world of birth, reproduction, and death, Yeats makes up his mind to sail to Byzantium where he thinks, he can defeat Time because he will go to the world of art and because art is timeless. Thus sailing to Byzantium meant for him making a voyage to a world vastly different from this world of materialistic and sensual interests.  To sail to Byzantium means to enter the realm of art. This realm, apart from giving him pleasure, is eternal.

Another poem in this series is Byzantium. It was written as a sequel to Sailing to Byzantium after an interval of three years. Yeats said that he wrote the second poem in order to throw light on the first one and make it explicable. But in the poem Byzantium is no reality, but “a country of the mind,” transcendental place outside time and space. It is beyond the world.

As in the earlier poem, the first stanza of Byzantium is concerned with the flesh-and-blood world that is being left behind, the world of “unpurged images” .After that opening stanza, the miraculous golden bird, the purgatorial flames, even the spirits crossing the sea, are all recalled, but in reverse order to their appearance in the earlier poem, for both the setting and the point of view have here changed completely. “Sailing to Byzantium” represents the voyage and is written from the point of view of the uninitiated outsider who leaves the material world for the immaterial. Byzantium, on the other hand, is written from the point of view of the initiated individual who watches the uninitiated, unpurged spirits arriving from beyond the “gong-tormented sea” which separates Byzantium’s reality from the flesh and blood reality of the twentieth century world.

Byzantium is for Yeats, so to speak, the heaven of man’s mind; there the mind or soul dwells in eternal or miraculous for; there all things are possible because all things are known to the soul. Byzantium had both a historical and an ideal form, and the historical is the exemplar, the dramatic witness, of the ideal. Byzantium represents both a dated epoch and a recurrent state of insight, when Nature is magical, that is, at the back of mind, and magic is natural- a practical rather than a theoretic art.

Thus, the Byzantium poems give a picture of the transcendent world of art, which timeless and eternal. These two poems may also be regarded as incorporating a, neo-Platonic vision of life after death. But they also celebrate the work of art as opposed to the work of nature. However they both deal with the last things. The Yeatsian aesthetic resolves into a final metaphor that reconciles all metaphors: “I hail the super-human;/ I call it death-in –life and life-in-death.” In this way, the dialogue of self and soul, and of art and life, both reach a conclusion.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

W. B. Yeats as a Romantic Poet

W. B. Yeats, a major modern poet, penned poems that are marked with modern human anxieties and crises, many of which contain romantic elements such as subjectivity, high imagination, escapism, romantic melancholy, interest in myth and folklore, etc. Influenced by the romantic poets, Yeats wrote many of his poems, especially his early poems, following the style that the Romantic poets followed. The poet felt so much influenced by the romantic poets that he characterized himself as one of the last romantics. A careful study of his poems will show that his poems that are written in romantic mode are as perfect in romantic qualities as those of Keats or Shelley.

“The lake Isle of Innisfree” is one of Yeast’s most famous romantic poems, containing almost all the romantic elements in it. It is a highly subjective and imaginative poem since the isle is not a real place situated anywhere in Ireland, rather an ideal land of romance. The poet has not only created the isle out of his imagination he has also imagined the beauties, sounds and comforts of the place. The isle is so peaceful and comfortable that the poet, tired of the tension and anxieties of town life, wishes to go there to get rid of the weariness of city life and to live alone in the close contact of nature. The place appears so beautiful, comfortable and peaceful to the poet that he decides to build a cottage there with clay and wattles. He also wishes to harvest his food from the isle by planting nine bean-rows and keeping a bee-hive there.

The poet reaches the peak of his romantic imagination when he visualizes peace dropping slowly in the isle from “the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings” and where “midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow and evening is full of the linnet’s wings”.
The poet is so fascinated by the charms of the isle that he cannot keep him away from the place. Even when he is busy with his daily life or is standing on the roadway or on the pavements grey, he hears the lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.
The poem thus contains the essential romantic elements like escapism, love for nature, imagination, subjectivity, dreaminess, romance of imaginary sounds and beauties, etc. Because of the presence of these qualities the poem puts the poet in the direct line of romantics with Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth.
“The Stolen Child” is another famous poem of Yeats containing romantic elements. The environment of Sleuth Wood in the lake is so dreamy that fantastic things happen here. There is a leafy island here where flapping herons wake and where the water-rats feel drowsy. The poet along with these herons and water rats walk in the lake all night dancing and mingling hands with the faeries. They leap to and fro in the lake water chasing “the frothy bubbles”. But the real world is not so beautiful and not so free from troubles and anxieties. “While the world is full of troubles/ And is anxious in its sleep”, the rocky highland of Sleuth Wood is full of delights and dreams. That is why the poet invites the peace seeking trouble stricken people to come to this place:
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

This poem reminds one of Wordsworth who often, tired of the cruelties of the harsh realities of time, liked to be lost in the lap of nature. Like Keats, Yeats in this poem wants to escape to a dreamy land where he thinks there are no troubles and human anxieties, and the fantasy that the poet creates in the poem out of his imagination places him next to S. T. Coleridge.

“The Wilde Swan at Coole” is another romantic poem of Yeats. The poet appears to be Wordsworthian in delineating the beauty of nature. The poet gives an impressive description of the lake at Coole Park. The poet finds fifty-nine swans perching on the stones of the lake in a beautiful, serene, calm and quiet atmosphere. This bewitching scene of the swans perched on the stones in the lake leads the poet to think of the high quality of life that the swans possess. The swans are beyond the harsh realities of human life while human life here is full of problems and troubles. The poet says of the swans:

Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will
Attend upon them still.

This contrast between the swans and the humans reminds one of the contrast made by Keats between nightingales and humans in his “Ode to Nightingale” where he says of the nightingale: “Thou are not born to death, immortal bird”. Like Keats’ nightingales, Yeats’ swans are not born to death. If an individual swan dies, the race remain and continue. Their hearts remain ever youthful and they can fly wherever they like. They are free and moved by the idea of passion and conquest. Unlike human beings, they are never touched by the onslaught of fever and fret and they do not have to face defeat and broken dream. In this way they become the symbol of immortality and fulfillment.

Like these early poems, some of his later poems also contain romantic elements. One such poem is “Sailing to Byzentium”. Like the lake isle of Innisfree, Byzentium is an ideal place. The poet completely frustrated and fed up by the decadence and degeneration of modern life escapes to the ideal world of Byzentium. This poem also reminds us of Keats’ “Ode to Nightingale”. Like Yeats, Keats frustrated and fed up by the harsh realities of life escape to the world of the nightingale.

Like the Romantics, Yeats had an intense interest in ancient myth and legend. He frequently uses the Greek, Medieval and Irish myths and legends in his poems which take the poet to the remote past. We also find in his poems the use of magic and Irish folkloric beliefs. For example, the use of numbers such as nine, nineteen, fifty-nine, has a magical overtone. In “The lake Isle of Innisfree” he wants to plant nine bean-rows; in “The Wilde Swans at the Coole” he sees fifty-nine swans. In Irish folklore the number nine is a lucky number.

The Romantic poems were subjective poems containing the poets’ personal views and ideas on different things. Many of Yeats’ poems reflect his own personal views and ideas on different things and many of his poems directly take the subject matter from his own personal life. “A Prayer for My Daughter” is one such poem in which the poet prays for some qualities to be possessed by his daughter. “Among the School Children” is another personal poem in which the poet becomes nostalgic wandering in his childhood days. Besides, his personal love with Maude Gonne and his frustration in love with her have been the themes of many of his poems. His bitter feelings about Maude Gonne’s attitude towards him also have romantic overtone.
In the light of the above discussion, we can say that W. B. Yeats is a poet of the romantic mode. His highly imaginative mind, tendency to escape to the ideal world to get rid of the cruel realities of time, love for nature, desire to pass time alone and to find comfort in the lap of nature, use of myth, legend, magic and Irish folkloric beliefs, expression of his personal views and ideas, incorporation of his personal sufferings and frustrated feelings—all these put the poet in the direct line with the Romantics.

Monday, July 4, 2016

W. B. Yeats' Political and Personal Passions in 'No Second Troy'

‘No Second Troy’ is the most celebrated poem in the volume ‘The Green Helmet and other Poems.’ It is one of the poems in which W. B. Yeats’ political and personal feelings find a combined expression. The poem begins with a question, a question that which leads to a kind of suspense that lasts till the very end. The poet strongly disapproves of the petty violence of Maud Gonne’s followers who ‘hurled the little streets upon the great.’ Maud Gonne is seen in terms of destruction. Her heroic beauty cannot avoid its consequences and must issue in destructiveness. But we must not blame her because , being what she is, she cannot help herself. 

Yeats’ criticism of Maude Gonne is based partly on her callousness towards him and partly on her political postures and the revolutionary violence that she preached to her countryman for the liberation of the motherland. The poem opens with a reference to her indifference to his love: ‘Why should I blame her that she filled my days with misery?’ Yeats’ disapproval of her political aggressiveness and bellicosity finds expression in the third line where Maud Gonne is visualized as teaching ‘to ignorant men most violent ways.’ 

There is a tinge of bitterness here because of the misery that the poet suffered on the account of Maud Gonne’s persistent refusals to marry Yeats. But the poet would not like to blame her because ,  he says in the eleventh line : Why, what could she have done , being what she is?’ The poem concludes with the question ‘ Was there another troy for her to burn?’ The implication is that, although Maud Gonne was another Helen and , she could not, in the changed circumstances , cause another Trojan War. In the changed circumstances, she could only fill the poet’s days with misery and she could teach most violent ways to ignorant men. The poet also asks ,in the middle of the poem, what could have made such a woman ‘peaceful’.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

'When You Are Old' By William Butler Yeats: Paraphrase, Summary and Analysis

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

Paraphrase: Stanza-1  

When you (my beloved) grow old and your hair turn grey, and when you look sometimes near the fire sleepily , then you should pick up this book that I am writing and read this poem. This poem then would remind you how beautiful you once used to be, and how soft and deep your eyes were when you were young.

Explanation of difficult phrases: Nothing by the fire- dozing as she sits near the fire in lonely winter nights. Dream of- think of the past youthful day is in a dreamy way. Soft looks your eyes had once- The poet's beloved now has soft looks. Her eyes have an enchantment about them. They lend to her face a look of charm and sweetness. But they would not always remain so. In her old age, she would only remember these soft looks with regret. 

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

Paraphrase: Stanza-2 

You will then remember that many men then loved you because of your joyful beauty. They loved you for your beauty , some with a true love, others safely. But then you will also remember that one man loved your soul, and loved you for the sadness of your looks.

Explanation of difficult phrases: Glad grace- During her youth, his beloved has a grace and a beauty that arises out of the joy living. Her youthfulness lends a charm to all her movements. How many…grace- This is to be connected with the idea given earlier-the beloved in her old are, remembering her days of youth. The poet tells her how she would then remember her old lovers, who are no more.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.  

Paraphrase: Stanza-3

Then, as you bend down near the glowing fire in the grate, you will murmur to yourself that love has left you , and has hidden itself far away , in lofty mountains and in starry skies.

Explanation of difficult phrases: A bending down-His beloved in her old age, would bend down. The glowing bars- the iron bars in the fire-place are glowing hot because of the fire burning in it. And bending love fled- The poet imagines that in her old age his beloved would feel that love has left the world, and lives now in the stars and the mountains. In other words, she will feel the loneliness of old age, when all lovers will forsake her. Paced upon-walked upon. And paced---overhead-Love no longer lives on earth, but upon lofty mountain peaks. And hid---stars-Love, which visits us, in our youth for a while , rises up to the stars and becomes one with them.

Detailed Summary and Analysis:

Addressing Moud Gonne, the poet says that when she is old, she should take up this book of Yeats’ poems and read it slowly. He asks her to compare her old age with the time of her youth. Feeling sleepy and nodding by the fire-side she can compare her grey hair with the softness of look and deep shadows that her eyes had in the prime of her life. Inn brief the poet wants Maud Gonne to have a feel of the terror that old age produces , ‘full of sleep’. Here sleep can be explained as usual time of sleep as well as the natural laziness or lethargy that comes in a human being as he or she grows old.

In the second stanza the poet further asks Maud Gonne to recollect as to how many people loved her when she was young and beautiful, and not all of them had true love for her beauty even. Quite a few of them just pretended love to her falsely, but there was one man only who loved , not her physical beauty alone but also the purity of her soul behind her beautiful shape. His love was purely spiritual and she must remember that he loved the pains of her growing old. It also means that he loves her even now when she is old and is prepared to share with her the sorrows of her age. 

The speaker says to Maud Gonne that when she lies down on the bed, bending  a bit toward the fire-side where the iron-rods outside the fire-chimney are glowing red with the heat of fire she must says to herself in a sort of sad of soliloquy that with the departure of her youth and charms, the false love of her lovers had also vanished away and evaporated in the mist of high mountains and stars. By saying this the speaker also intends saying that in comparison to her false lovers, he was the only true lover who had loved her all-through –from youth to old age and he loves her even now.