Literary Analysis of Easter 1916 By W. B. Yeats
The Literary Analysis of Easter 1916 makes it feasible for the readers to understand the historical context behind it. Here, we have divided it into sections for your understanding.
Line by line explanation
The poem opens up with the speaker telling about meeting some people at the end of the day, while describing these faces as “vivid”. The reference of 18th century houses and surroundings is given by the poet that clears to us that it is happening during that time period. The poet has passed through these people who are high on some emotion, but they have only communicated with the little movement of their head. Along with that, these people are saying some words to him as well that he has recognised as “meaningless”, maybe because he is unable to comprehend with their particular sentiments. He has also stood for a while with these people and have talked about something that he has no attachment to. Though, he has been polite in all the manner with these people and have answered these meaningless words to them, he has also thought about those imitating tales that he tells his friends in the club around the fire. He is certainly thinking about those times where people used to wear “motley” that is a multicolour or dissimilar cloth worn by the clown. It could mean that he wants to point out that how meaningless life they had until the change occurred and “terrible beauty is born”. It can be assessed that there is something that is so attractive, but terrible at the same time.
In the second part of the poem, the speaker is talking about some woman who had been living a life in arguing with someone. Even in the daytime, she is found quarrelling with someone that has resulted in a high-pitched voice. A sweet voice that was used to be so melodious when she was a young beauty while roaming around on the horses, hunting, prior to coming into the politics. Now he speaks of another man who was part of this activity that the poet is talking about. This man used to run a school and along with him, there is another friend as his helper who has a bright future ahead, but decided to join this force. Later in the same part, Yeats remembers a man who is part of this struggle, but has personally done some bad to him too. Still, the poet is taking his name in the poem as he has also played a crucial part to which Yeats has called “casual comedy” out of which there is again a “terrible beauty” is born.
As the poem progresses, we see that in this next part, the poet emphasizes on telling the inner situation of those who were struggling for that single purpose. The heart of those revolutionaries has turned into stone that could be due to the dedication to their objective. The time is changing and the life is going on its way, but their hearts are still the same like a stone remain there in the middle of chaos.
In the end part, the poet has also made clear that it is due to this long going effort that is the reason of turning heart into a stone by making them strong. Heaven has an idea that only when this chaos will end while in our part, we have to keep a track of all those names who are sacrificing their lives for the cause just like a mother takes the name of her children till sleep strikes her. Furthermore, the speaker inquires if this thrilling quest for something that ended up in losing so many lives, was worth it or not? Has England kept its promise and worked on its words? Then, once again, the speaker has mentioned those who have given away their life for a dream. A dream that has cost them their lives. The poet is also confused that whether their intensity of dream kept them confused till the end of time? Now, the poet has taken the names of those Irishmen who were part of the Irish Uprising in kind of a verse. The MacDonagh, MacBride, Connolly and Pearse are the well known name of the Irish revolution. These names have written a history and not only for now, but forever, they will be remembered for their act whenever the Green colour will be worn as green is the national colour of Ireland. This is certainly how the terrible beauty has born in terms of revolution and sacrifice.
Literary Analysis of Easter 1916
While analysing Easter 1916, the eye catching title is the very first thing to claim your attention. As the name suggests, it has something serious to do with the event of Easter. The basic belief of Easter is that the resurrection of Jesus will occur on this day. It is a celebration of rebirth of the martyrdom and that these revolutionaries will have a rebirth effect on the Irish nation too.
William Butler Yeats wrote this poem on 25th September 1916 after the events if Irish Uprising that is also known as Easter Rising. The rebellion act took place on the Easter day in the capital of Ireland, Dublin on 24th of April, 1916. The reason behind it was to seek independence from the British rule that was promised, but was postponed due to World War I. There were 16 Irish republicans were involved in mounting this rising who wanted to topple the colonialism of England and establish and Irish state. Although, the Rising was futile and led to the execution of the masterminds behind it.
The poem begins with the Yeats comes across the Irish people before the Easter Rising was announced. These people could be revolutionaries who are coming back from their daily routine jobs, etc. These people have fought for their homeland and Yeats has described them as ‘vivid faces’, the ones who are glowing with the aim of getting back their Irish homeland one day. However, the poet has only greeted them with the mere nod of the head with ‘polite meaningless words’ and not giving any extra importance. From all this usual calmness to all the moods of insurgence. The poet has compared that how they were like funny clowns, telling some funny or teasing tales to the friends and now they are completely changed people, they have become so dedicated and serious, working towards the same goal. The terrible beauty is indeed the unity of the Irish nation as one and claiming their land.
Now in the second part of the poem, Yeats has talked about those revolutionary figures who played a key role in the Easter Uprising. He has started off from a woman who had all the luxuries of life. Still, she chose to be a part of an event that led to hardships. The woman that the poet has mentioned here is Countess Constance Markievicz. The countess has worked till late at night arguing about the political matters that has made her voice strident. Once she had such beautiful, soft voice and she used to hunt on the harrier’s back, but she gave up all the comfort for the betterment of the nation. She was ordered to be executed as well, but was not handed over by the authorities. She was also elected in the British Parliament, but did not take her seat. After that, he mentions a man who established a boys’ school. He was Padraic Pearse, who was the leader of the Irish Republican. He was a nationalist and the poet has used the Greek mythology of Pegasus for him by saying ‘our winged horse’. Pearse does not in detail by Yeats in the poem rather he mentions his friend Thomas MacDonagh who was his ‘helper and friend’. He was an emerging poet with sensitive thoughts who could be famous in the end if he would not have dedicated his life for the revolution and becoming the Military council for the Republican. He and Pearse was executed like others by the firing squad under the charges of treason. There is a ‘drunken, vainglorious lout’ later comes in the poem Easter 1916, who is Major John MacBride. Most likely Yeats has used these words for him for the personal reasons. He married Maud Gonne, who was adored highly by the poet, but could never marry her. Yeats says ‘done most bitter wrong with some who are near my heart’, he is saying because Bride ill-treated Maud Gonne. Yet, the poet has mentioned him due to his sacrifices for the nation, though, it was of no use by calling it a ‘casual comedy’ because they got almost nothing out of it. Even this entire scenario of uprising has transformed a man like MacBride and this is how they have become passionate for a cause.
In the third stanza, we can observe that how Yeats has associated the stability and persistence with the symbol of ‘stone’ while they are all have the same purpose of heart. They all want to be free from Britishers no matter what is the time of the season is this. Their aspiration is unchanging and relentless. The motive of the life of these revolutionaries is not troubled by anything harsh or calm, whatever. He then uses the imagery of horse, clouds, birds, hens, moor, etc, who is moving from one place to another, changing by every passing minute. Amongst them, the hearts of these freedom fighters are unchanged by any outside effect. They are strong willed and firm on their decision to have their land back. In this stanza, we have also noticed that how the poet has moved from humans to the nature.
As we move to the fourth stanza, we can spot that Yeats is kind of acknowledging the efforts of these rebellions of the Easter Rising. There has been quite a time that these people are suffering and have sacrificed their everything. This determination has turned their hearts into the stone that is again unmoved. It can be seen as they are in the position to do or die now, that is also very much visible to all of us by now. All of us are unaware that when this sacrifice of Irish people will end, meanwhile, we are busy in taking names of those who have lost their lives. All those who had been on their ‘limbs’ are taken down by the eternal death. The poet explains to them that it is not the sleep that comes at night rather it is the sleep that is known as death. All those involved in the uprising are executed or killed. Now the poet has also asked about it being worth dying for the cause or not? He is sort of showing his positivity that England will not back off from its promise and grant free land to the Irish people a it was promised earlier. He has acknowledged the detriment of those dreams that has taken many precious lives. It all happened because they crazily followed a dream that made them losing their future. He has asked the question again if it was their love for the homeland that confused them so much until they are dead and realized that it was all just a dream? Certainly, a poet himself, being an Irish by blood, do not want all of this to go in vain that is why, he has written this whole poem that as a tribute to them.
Yeats has written down all of his feelings in the verses with the names of MacDonagh, MacBride, Connolly and Pearse that whenever these names will be taken now, the context behind them would be entirely different. They are the symbol of bravery and heroism now. They are a kind of national heroes who will be remembered the national colour of Ireland that is green. This is how, this ‘terrible beauty’ of sacrifice and nationalism was born.
We have noticed that the tone of the poet is a kind of disapproving that is mainly due to the Yeats’ personal feeling towards the uprising. When the Easter Rising began, he had no idea that it will turn out to be so deadly and violent. This disturbed Yeats and the other revolutionists as well. This was the reason that he pens down his emotions via this poem.
Themes in Easter 1916
We can find several themes in Easter 1916, such as heroism, sacrifice, immortality. The sacrifice of Irish nation was so great that with just the meagre sixteen of the nationalists decided to stand in front of the huge British army. They understood that the price of freedom is high and they can never gain it without any sacrifice. For instance, MacDonagh could be a great playwright and poet if he would be alive, but he did not care for himself rather he cared for his people. Just like that women were also part of this movement who put aside their ease and family life.
Immortality is another widely found theme in Easter 1916. This is so certain that when they sacrifice themselves, they have now become immortal in the history. The names like Connolly, MacBride, MacDonagh, Pearse, etc have become unforgettable because they stood in front of the English violence. Not only these famous personalities will be remembered forever, but the common citizens as well who gave up their peaceful lives and changed into rebels that is why, Yeats has called them as ‘terrible beauty’.
In the theme of heroism, all those citizens along with the 16 Irish masterminds have become a hero till the eternity. They have given a pride and courage to the nation that wanted to have its own identity. They wanted to be free from the British rule by sacrificing their everything.
Symbols in Easter 1916
The symbol of stone is very much visible throughout the poem when the poet has compared the hearts of rebellions to the stone, saying ‘enchanted to a stone’. No matter which weather has come and gone, the hearts of the activists have remained the same. He also mentioned in the last stanza that it must have been a great struggle that has turned their hearts into the stone.
Imagery in Easter 1916
The imagery of horse, clouds, and riders can also be noticed in the poem. The foreshadowing can be seen in the line when Yeats said, “all changed, changed utterly”, pointing out towards something that has entirely changed in the future.