Literary analysis of Among School Children assists in exploring the meaning hidden inside this historic poem by William Butler Yeats.
About W. B. Yeats
Yeats was born in 1865 in Dublin. He was a driving force behind the establishment of the Irish literary scene. William Butler was a poet, dramatist, prose writer and possesses a prominent place in twentieth-century literature. He was a member of the group which established Abbey theatre.
Yeats was also a Senator in Irish Free State. With such immense contribution in literature, he was presented with Nobel Prize in literature in 1923.
Literary Analysis of Among School Children
In the foremost stanza, the poet tells that he is on a visit to a female Convent School, located in Waterford. It is an all-girls school where students ranging from four to seven. In 1926, a committee was appointed in order to find out the situation of the Irish education system at that time. As a Senator, Yeats visited this school, administered by nuns and according to the Montessori method.
The poet further shares that he went through all the classrooms and asked various questions. An aged and generous nun, wearing a white dress was guiding him everywhere and answering his questions. Children were taking lessons in mathematics, music, sewing, and cutting. They were also taking knowledge of history and reading books. Children are taught to stay clean and tidy in everything they do. The ‘best modern way’ is the way of doing things, which is what this newly introduced Montessori method is dependent on. The students are surprised to see such an aged man smiling while walking around school.
The second stanza of Among School Children tells that poet is thinking about his love, Maud Gonne. She was a lady who was known for her elegance and prettiness just like Leda. Leda was the mother of Helen for whom the war of Trojan was fought. The famous epic Iliad written by Homer is based on this theme. The poet is an old man now and thought about Maud Gonne who would also be an old lady now. He is thinking about their private conversation during his young days and reminded of an incident that Gonne told him. A teacher insulted her and she felt this tragedy was an unforgettable one. His heart ached for her after knowing this incident. It was their mutual consolation that their natures blended together. It looked like if they are one person now in different bodies, who have separate identifications, but they are united.
In the third stanza, the poet has jumped back to the real world in the classroom that he is visiting as a Senator from the world of fantasy. He has the misery of Maud Gonne in his mind when she was humiliated by her teacher, he looked at the faces of school students. The purpose of looking at these girls’ faces was so that he could find Maud Gonne amongst these faces. As he thinks so, an idea struck his mind that even such powerful ladies like Gonne or Helen were like these normal children in their childhood. Helen was the daughter of Leda and Zeus, who came in the form of Swan. He felt as if this girl in front of him is Maud Gonne as she was back in her school days.
In the earlier stanza, the poet is thinking about Maud Gonne as a schoolgirl and in the fourth stanza, he is thinking about him when she is old now. Her mind goes toward the Maud Gonne who is in elderly age with cheeks hollowing inside. Her appearance is so weak and lean that her appetite maybe consists of shadows and winds. Yeats think of Gonne’s old age like some Italian poet has drawn an old lady’s painting.
Now, the poet is talking about himself that he is unaware of how beautiful Leda looks back in time, but he was also very handsome when he was young. Now, neither he has youth nor good looks. Although, none of these reasons can stop him from smiling today and meeting people with a smile on his face. Poet says that he has an appearance like some scarecrow, but he should look like if he is restful and happy.
While the poet was telling us all about a beautiful child, then to an aged people, now he has jumped on to the image of a toddler. This toddler is behaving like a typical one when he cries, sleeps, or wants to get out of our embrace. Again, he explains about that old man who is more than sixty years old with white hair.
The contrast of a toddler to a mature old man is appalling. He put attention towards a mother that if she has to think about her child in his sixty years of age, she will definitely think if it was right to bear a child and go through all that pain. Port is abiding with declining years and the way it deteriorates your body plus looks. Yeats has perfectly compared these two stages of life. As a child, one is careless of his or her surroundings and the same person is like a scarecrow when grows older.
In the previous stanza, the poet speaks of how time treats a human being. In stanza six, the poet is speaking of a philosopher like Plato here. He is discussing one of Plato’s theories of ghostly formations. After that, he is telling about Cosmology by Aristotle. Aristotle’s king is God who is making these planets made of marble to move parallel with each other in a decided movement. This idea of God is an irony that Yeats has expressed here. He might mean to say that God made everything and now thinks about Himself only while the universe is now moving in that cycle. Then, he has given reference to another philosopher Pythagoras, who presented many musical theories. Even all of these efficient philosophers could not avoid the upcoming old age when they became scarecrows. This stanza again depicts the ruinous reality of time.
In the seventh stanza of Among Children Children, the poet has now put nuns and mothers side by side. Just like Nuns are busy worshipping Virgin Mary or Christ, mothers are busy in worshipping their children. These sculptures present in the church made up of bronze or marble have an expression of calmness and repose on their faces. The images that mothers reverences bring in all the enthusiasm and anxiety in their lives.
On the other hand, the sculptures present in church breaks the heart as well of those who worship them. Children break their mother’s heart when they are old and weak. This change is breaking hearts while moving from childhood to a young age, whereas, those stone structures originate sorrow and pain due to no change. All those images of stones have unchanging expressions on their faces. Poet certainly refers to all those emotional faces of nuns, mothers, and people in love because their faces emit angelic eminence. He called them mockers of emotions who have created these sentiments themselves.
In the final stanza of this poem, the poet expresses that when there is labor or hard work is included in some process, it becomes natural. The change happening is in the faces of youngsters and things that are unable to change are statutes. Either it is a change or no change, both of them ridicule humanity. The complete organism is only in blossoming and dancing. When it comes to the chestnut tree, it is an entire product of leaf, trunk, and blossom. The essence is present in all of the trees rather than just in any one part. Likewise, one cannot really separate any dancer from his or her moves. They are both inseparable, dancers and the moves.
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