Easter Rising and Ideal World

10 October 2016

Later in life his preoccupation shifted and his work dealt with his obsession with immortality and the passing of time, until he eventually came to accept the inevitability of death. This is conveyed through ‘Sailing to Byzantium’. The transitional years 1909-1914 were explored by Yeats in the anthology by ‘Sept 1913’. In this poem Yeats expressed his outrage at the middle class Catholic society, whom he felt were what was wrong with the way of life at the time. In a daring move he decided to deal with a political issue of that time that he felt so strongly about.

He chastises the people for ruining the world that the great past heroes had fought so hard for. His sarcastic tone in the opening stanza works well. He portrays his disgust at their actions ‘But fumble in a greasy till and add the half pence to the pence, and prayer to shivering prayer, for men were born to pray and save’. He condemns these people for their actions. Not truly believing in what they do, but praying for the sake of it to save their souls in the next life. I completely agree with this assessment as I feel hypocrisy is the most unflattering of traits. Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone’ is a lament for the patriots of old, who heroically fought for a better life. His anger is palpable at these miserly middle-class catholics who are undoing all of the past work. Yeats wonders now was their struggle meaningless ‘And what God help us could they save? ’ for tis eems to have been futiles. I feel he was right to ‘Let them be’ for if they say today, how the world has turned out, they would realise that their lives ‘they weighed so lightly what they gave’ were wasted on a generation void of any sense of patriotism or nationalism.

After that yeats’s poetry became less musical and romantic, and more realistic, the tensions of the real world over-ruling his ideal fantasies. His work became more realistic and blunt, and above all, more in tune with modern reality. The Easter Rising of 1916 marked a change in his work and a change in his own beliefs. The political events of 1916 created turmoil in the poet’s life and ultimately posed acute personal dilemmas for him. On the one hand his patriotism and nationalism surged with pride to see a revival of the old ways he’d thought were long dead.

Yet he began to realise that these dreams of this ‘ideal world’ were coming at too great a cost. The opening of ‘E1916’ retains some of the resentment he felt for the people in ‘S1913’. He saw the people as unworthy of his time, nothing more than the butt of his ‘mocking tale or jibe’. They resided where ‘motely was worn’, of no great worth or interest to him. Then there is a stark contrast to the poet and Yeats began to see them in a different light. ‘All changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born’.

He comes to realise that the heroes he spoke of in ‘S1913’ are not ‘with O’Leary in the grave’ but alive an active. They ‘resigned their role in the casual comedy’ and took up arms again in the name of patriotism. The ‘every moving stream’ is representative of the modern world, forever changing and moving on. The ‘enchanted stone’ is indicative of these patriots who stand still in this ever changing world of flux. Their ideas remain firmly in the past, yet the world moves on at a great speed. Yeats wonders if the old ideas hav ea place in this new world, reality beginning to set in.

He realises that patriotism is not as glorious as he thought, it ‘makes a stone of the heart’ and that perhaps the price you pay is inordinately high. There is too much life lost, always the young and impressionable who suffer. By the end Yeats re-evaluates his faith in patriotism and nationalism, seeing it comes at much too high a cost, the real world over-rules his imaginary, ideal world. The poem ‘Stares nest by my window’ portrays Yeats new found outlook on life, and he recounts his friends who’ve given so much in the name of patriotism. He portrays poignantly how war and patriotism can make men behave in brutal, barbaric ways.

No more thought is given for human life ‘as they trundled down the road, the dead young soldier in his blood’. No empathy or thought is spared to the innocent victims of their fight in the name of nationalism. What is it to them ‘ a house burns, a man dead’. It has no real significance in their greater scheme. In this poem Yeats conveyed brilliantly the corrosive effects of fanaticism of the human soul. How it can rid a man of all sense of morality and what’s fair and just. He also shows how his ‘loosening masonry’ holds no protection for his anymore, that all people are susceptible to its effects.

It’s clear from this series of poems that there is a real source of tension for Yeats between the real world and his initial ideal world and romanticised view or patriotism. Much later in life, Yeats’s preoccupation with the ageing body came forth, as he desperately sought for ways to immortalise himself and out do the passing of time. He most poignantly portrayed this is ‘Sailing to Byzantium. ’ The title indicates Yeats’s desire – a voyage to perfection. He condemned the modern people who were too self-obsessed in today, without sparing a thought for tomorrow it was all about the here and now, the ‘sensual music’.

The natural world was alive and flourishing ‘the salmon falls, the mackerel crowded seas’. Living for the now, reproducing ‘fish, flesh or fowl’ they commended the flesh. No one spared a thought for what was to come after. The sound of the bird is a mocking jibe to the old man whose physically waning body can no longer keep up. Yeats despised his ageing self, his inability to perform as he once did. He desperately seeks to immortalise himself in some form, to out live the body. His reference to the human being as a ‘paltry thing’ becomes more degrading and insulting, to a ‘tattered coat upon a stick’ to finally a ‘dying animal’.

He has no longer any time for nature. It’s then that Yeats discovers a way to preserve himself – in the form of art. Its timeless quality greatly appeals to him and he feels ‘there is no singing school to study monuments of its own magnificence’. He feels he has found a way at last to remain, even if his bodily form is gone. He will capture himself in a world of art ‘not out of nature, but such as the Greeks make with godl hammering and enamelling’. The golden bird acts as the antithesis to the ‘dying animal’.

This idea really impressed upon me the importance and significance of great works of art. It shows that the body may go on, but the soul resides long after wrapped in this resilient and everlasting masterpiece. Yeats’ detest for the reality of life, the harsh truth of the real world contends ataisnt this new ideal world he creates. I personally know which I prefer. Overall it’s clear to say that Yeats’s poetry is driven by a tension between the real world in which he lives and an ideal world that he imagines. He portrays his thoughts poignantly and evocatively, immensely personal and moving.

His thematic focus if very interesting, capturing the readers’ attention and forcing you to consider concepts and ideas you never ordinarily would. His request and desire to remain remembered is one we can all empathise with ‘O let me be Lear, Timon, or that William Blake’. These are men who gained true insight in madness, a prophet who will be remembered for centuries to come for his great mind. He wants his ideas to ‘pierce the clouds’, be forceful and powerful and inspirational. It’s a dream all of us secretly crave and he captured it magically through a tension created by the confines of reality and his own imaginary genius.

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