WB Yeats’ Among School Children

Context:

  • Yeats’ wrote this poem when he was 61 years old.
  • Yeats was a member of a committee, which was reviewing how model schools worked
  • Yeats had just visited St Otteran’s, a Catholic school in Waterford, which was run under very modern educational principles

Ideas:

What are the questions posed by Yeats in this poem?

Is this a poem about youth and age?

Or a poem questioning the value of life?

Techniques:

  • What do you think is Yeats’ opinion of the children’s education, from the description in stanza one?
  • There is a clear contrast between the youth and innocence of the children, and the age and cynicism of Yeats. How is this achieved through the last three lines in stanza one?
  • The “she” in stanza two is a possible reference to Maude Gonne, Yeats’ long time unrequited love. What does the description “bent/ Above a sinking fire” imply about her?
  • What do the last four lines in stanza two suggest about Yeats’ relationship with Maude? What is the technique in the last line?
  • What does Yeats wonder when he looks at the children?
  • What does “For even daughters of the swan can share/ Something of every paddler’s heritage” allude to?
  • In stanza three, Yeats’ thoughts move from imagination to the present reality. What does the allusion to Quattrocentro mean?
  • What does the metaphor of Yeats’ being a “scarecrow” suggest about what aging means to him?
  • In stanza four, Yeats’ thoughts again move – this time to a universal rhetorical question. What is the question that he poses?
  • What is the technique in the line “sleep, shriek, struggle”?
  • In stanza five, Yeats’ references Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras. Why does he do so? What is the significance of the last line?
  • What is the comparison made in stanza six? In what way can children also “break hearts”?
  • What do you think the first four lines of stanza seven mean?
  • What is the conclusion brought out in the two rhetorical questions in stanza seven? What does Yeats’ suggest about life, youth, age?

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