WB Yeats’ Easter 1916

Context:

  • In Easter 1916, Dublin, there was a small rebellion against the British Army. The rebels fortified buildings, but were easily outnumbered and the British Army had cannons, machine guns etc.
  • The rebels surrendered after 5 days and were executed by firing squad.
  • Although locals Dubliners offered very little support or sympathy during the uprising, this violence and tragedy of this rebellion turned public opinion.

References (all died/executed in 1916):

  • Thomas MacDonagh, one of the leaders in the rebellion
  • Major John MacBride, second in command in the rebellion, had married and separated with Yeats’ long-time unrequited love, Maude Gonne
  • Connolly – James Connolly, founded the Irish Socialists Republican Party
  • Pearse – Patrick Pearse, leader of rebellion

Ideas:

How does this poem reflect Yeats’ political views?

How does this poem demonstrate the power of poetry to immortalise?

What is the “change” that Yeats is referring to?

Techniques:

  • What does “at close of day” symbolise?
  • What impression do you get of Yeats’ relationship with the local Dubliners and rebels from the first stanza?
  • The oxymoron “A terrible beauty is born” is repeated at the end of every stanza. What  is both terrible and beautiful?
  • How is our attention drawn to the last lines of the first stanza? Consider punctuation and tense.
  • The second stanza describes three people. Who are they? How are they described, in order to emphasise their loss?
  • The third stanza uses an extended metaphor. What does the stone represent? What does the stone metaphor connote?
  • How does Yeats’ convey the liveliness of the horse, rider, birds etc in comparison to the stone?
  • The lines “Minute by minute they change” are varied three times in the third stanza. In the last variation, what does change equate to?
  • The fourth stanza is largely comprised of a series of questions. What is Yeats’ asking?
  • The lines starting “As a mother names her child…” are a simile. What is the comparison made?
  • Yeats’ suggests that Easter 1916 and the tragedy and passion of the Irish rebels will be remembered “Now and in time to be”. How does poetry immortalise their efforts?
  • What does “Wherever green is worn” refer to?

Relation to other poems:

Links:

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