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Forum Home > Poetry > 'Easter 1916'

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

Professor Fran Brearton's seminar on Yeats will start here at 2pm today. 

December 1, 2013 at 6:39 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

Here are a few things to think about for the discussion today:

Is ‘Easter 1916’ a poem of such political ambivalence that it ends up pleasing no-one?

What are some of the difficulties Yeats faced in writing this poem, given his attitude towards the people involved, and the wider context of the First World War?

How does the form of the poem inform its meaning (thinking about its rhetorical questions, rhythms, rhymes, stanza structure, imagery, repetitions, and the famous ‘terrible beauty’ oxymoron)?

What do you think about Yeats’s representation of women in this, and other, poems?

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December 1, 2013 at 7:14 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

Would anyone like to get us started by suggesting some of the difficulties Yeats encountered in trying to write an elegy for the 1916 rebels?

 

December 1, 2013 at 9:07 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Hugo
Member
Posts: 9

I would suggest that the ambivalence of the poem does lead to little support from either party, but I would think that Yeats was attempting to do this, to highlight the wrongs in this conflict.

December 1, 2013 at 9:08 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

Hi Hugo, am interested in what you mean by 'either party' here too. I'd agree the poem is deliberately raising questions about the 'rightness' of the action even while celebrating it...

 

December 1, 2013 at 9:10 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Hugo
Member
Posts: 9

Well he didn't want to be particularly disrespectful towards those who died, but also did not want to completely validate their actions

December 1, 2013 at 9:10 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

Yes, 'drunken, vainglorious lout' isn't the hightest praise of anyone! Could we say their actions are validated only by their deaths? 

December 1, 2013 at 9:13 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Soft Rain
Member
Posts: 4

Hi Fran, can we talk about the oxymoron 'terrible beauty'? - is it suggesting that war is a form of beauty, or the way we remember it?

December 1, 2013 at 9:13 AM Flag Quote & Reply

purple-owl
Member
Posts: 7

I sort of agree with Hugo here but think that instead of validating their actions, Yeats is questioning whether their actions had any impact at all.

 

I think that their actions are partially validated by their deaths but mostly by the fact that they sacrificed the regularity of their lives to participate in this uprising: 'He, too, has resigned his part / In the casual comedy'

What is your view of this, Fran? 

December 1, 2013 at 9:16 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

'terrible beauty' is probably one of the most discussed and disputed phrases in modern poetry... How can it be beauty, if it is also 'terrible'? I suppose its simplest interpretation is that it refers not to war as such, but to their deaths, and what is created by those deaths - a new politics being born. How does anyone else read the phrase?

December 1, 2013 at 9:16 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Hugo
Member
Posts: 9

Fran Brearton at December 1, 2013 at 9:13 AM

Yes, 'drunken, vainglorious lout' isn't the hightest praise of anyone! Could we say their actions are validated only by their deaths? 

Well i would that it is again quite cinflicted as although Yeats does say that these actions will not be remembered in the 'casual comedy' he questions their deaths in the last stanza.

December 1, 2013 at 9:16 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

Hugo at December 1, 2013 at 9:16 AM

Fran Brearton at December 1, 2013 at 9:13 AM

Yes, 'drunken, vainglorious lout' isn't the hightest praise of anyone! Could we say their actions are validated only by their deaths? 

Well i would that it is again quite cinflicted as although Yeats does say that these actions will not be remembered in the 'casual comedy' he questions their deaths in the last stanza.

Much depends on how you read the questions in the final stanza - particularly 'what if excess of love /bewildered them till they died?'. Does 'what if' means 'did it', or does it mean, 'what does it matter'? If the latter, the fact of their death raises them to tragic status regardless of their motivations.

December 1, 2013 at 9:18 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SamB
Member
Posts: 42

I think that oxymoron refers more to Yeats' split opinion on the fight for independence in Ireland at the time of writing - he feels inspired by the heroism of the various martyrs he names, yet he can't help but regret the bloodshed that he knows will come.

December 1, 2013 at 9:19 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

purple-owl at December 1, 2013 at 9:16 AM

I sort of agree with Hugo here but think that instead of validating their actions, Yeats is questioning whether their actions had any impact at all.

 

I think that their actions are partially validated by their deaths but mostly by the fact that they sacrificed the regularity of their lives to participate in this uprising: 'He, too, has resigned his part / In the casual comedy'

What is your view of this, Fran? 

I think by the time the poem is written, it was evident that this small-scale event would cause something of a sea change in Irish politics, though Yeats does ask (controversially) if England might have kept faith on the Home Rule issue. He believed that a statement by the British government as to such a commitment would have rendered the Rising unnecessary... But I agree that through the sacrifice itself, they are raised from 'comic' to tragic status. Yeats is quite negative about all the key participants in the Rising - as you can see in the opening stanzas. But 'motley' - the jester's colours - turn green, and tragic, by the end of the poem.

December 1, 2013 at 9:21 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Hugo
Member
Posts: 9

Considering the Terrible Beauty I would suggest that terrible also has conatations of the spectacular

December 1, 2013 at 9:22 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

SamB at December 1, 2013 at 9:19 AM

I think that oxymoron refers more to Yeats' split opinion on the fight for independence in Ireland at the time of writing - he feels inspired by the heroism of the various martyrs he names, yet he can't help but regret the bloodshed that he knows will come.

The Rising took Yeats by surprise - and it came from the very group of people he despises: the middle classes (they come from 'counter or desk' at the start of the poem - the clerks and school teachers). Yeats's ideal Ireland is that of aristocrats, artists, and peasants, and he was certainly wrong-footed by the rise of this kind of nationalism, however nationalist his own beliefs might have been.

December 1, 2013 at 9:24 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Soft Rain
Member
Posts: 4

Hugo at December 1, 2013 at 9:22 AM

Considering the Terrible Beauty I would suggest that terrible also has conatations of the spectacular

I agree, the oxymoron only drew my attention to the phrase - I still think it is a positive thing, 'terrible' can be used positively. 

December 1, 2013 at 9:24 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

What about the bloodshed being given tragic status in the poem, given the wider context of the European War? (Where 'terror' not beauty would seem to hold sway.)

December 1, 2013 at 9:26 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

Fran Brearton at December 1, 2013 at 9:24 AM

SamB at December 1, 2013 at 9:19 AM

I think that oxymoron refers more to Yeats' split opinion on the fight for independence in Ireland at the time of writing - he feels inspired by the heroism of the various martyrs he names, yet he can't help but regret the bloodshed that he knows will come.

The Rising took Yeats by surprise - and it came from the very group of people he despises: the middle classes (they come from 'counter or desk' at the start of the poem - the clerks and school teachers). Yeats's ideal Ireland is that of aristocrats, artists, and peasants, and he was certainly wrong-footed by the rise of this kind of nationalism, however nationalist his own beliefs might have been.

interesting, so were these the sort of people he castigated for fumbling in greasy tills in 'September 1913'?

December 1, 2013 at 9:27 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

Or put another way, if Yeats is partially horrified by the Rising and the bloodshed, and partly enthralled by the heroic sacrifice, does it change the way we see the poem if we think about the massive Irish casualties in the First World War that he never mentions?

December 1, 2013 at 9:29 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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