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Representation of People in W.B Yeats’ Poetry: Analysis of “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”

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The representation of people in W.B Yeats’ poetry is greatly dependent on the demonstration of real-life events to enable readers to perceive and understand the true and genuine emotions of the human experiences of these people. In both “Easter 1916” (published in 1916) and “An Irish Airman Foresees his death” (written in 1918) written by Yeats, focuses on real-life scenarios with real people to express the passionate flow of ideas to persuade and engage the audience, allowing them to reimagine the themes and ideas depicted in the poem. Yeats conveys the ideas of heroic bravery and personal sacrifice for public fulfilment to resonate within the audience allowing them to experience and empathise with the people represented in the text. Hence, Yeats represents people in real-life events to enable the readers to understand and perceive the emotional problems these people face.

The idea of heroic bravery is depicted in the poem “Easter 1916” through the inspiration of heroic figures seen in the Easter uprising in Ireland. Throughout the poem, the persona is in self-conflict with the Irish nationalist during the Irish independence protests, though is still able to realise and appreciate their heroism during this time of nationalistic war. Despite this, the poem conveys that true heroism can transcend personal flaws and, as to transform a person “utterly”. The poem encompasses the persona’s exploration of the meaning and nature of heroism, transforming the people present in the poem into heroic figures that should be honoured. “A terrible beauty is born” uses oxymoron and biblical allusion to convey the blood sacrifice of the rebels for rebirth and renewal of a secular incarnation of a sacred season. This in effect, interests the person about how the deaths are the “terrible beauty” to which they gave birth due to their undying bravery. In the following stanzas, the speaker suggests that despite the misguided violent uprising, the persona honours them for their bravery in “we know their dream; enough / To know they dreamed and are dead” alluding to the participants of the uprising to convey that regardless of their flaws they should still be considered heroic figures. Thus, the heroic representation of the rebels during the Irish independence enables the audience to question and perceive the experiences of these people.

Additionally, the poem of “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death” portrays heroism in a new view of personal exhilaration. Whilst this poem can be perceived as a heroic composition, the persona himself is a fighter pilot that does not typically fight for the love of his people or country but rather for the sheer pleasure he feels when he is in the air. “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death” was written in memory of Major Robert Gregory who died in WWI, is considered as an elegy for Robert which Yeats’ takes advantage of to describe and speak in Robert’s sense of life, death, war and to meditate on the senselessness of conflict. The use of paradox seen in “Those that I fight I do not hate./ Those that I guard I do not love” is ambivalent in how the audience perceives the persona’s experience in self-fulfilment in the war despite his bravery to fight. We also see that the persona meditates on the senselessness of war, realising that either outcome won’t “leave them happier than before” dismissing the reasons why people go to war, whilst outlining his reasons for joining the war. The repetition of the metaphor “waste of breath” expresses the persona’s views on how he regards his life as pointless hence, portraying that he fights for the sense of exhilaration is driven by “a lonely impulse of delight” and in a sense is sacrificing himself for this death stricken “delight”. Ultimately, the portrayal of heroism for personal exhilaration allows the readers to understand the multiple variations of heroic bravery to understand the experiences and reasoning of the speaker in “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death”.

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Personal sacrifice for public fulfilment through the loss of the human condition is a significant idea conveyed in the poem “Easter 1916”. Through the use of nature imagery, Yeats conveys the lasting effects on the human condition when involved in such matters like the Easter uprising in Ireland. When Yeats refers to the “terrible beauty”, the beauty not only refers to heroism but also how politics changed the rebels, in addition to the talents and opportunities they gave up as well as the individual commitment to political goals and ideals. The persona also suggests that total commitment to the protests can exclude one to the natural human inclination, resulting in personal sacrifice for public fulfilment. The persona metaphorically outlines normal life in “moor-hens dive,/and hens to moor-cocks call” to symbolise the basic human condition. Yet, the symbolism of the stone in “The stone’s in the midst of all” shows the stone’s inability to share in simple human condition rather, stays in an unchanging state of a death-like condition. suggesting, that the rebels are metaphorically more dead than alive and died in a sense by losing their natural human condition. Also, the stone represents the purpose and strength of the people and the rebellion being necessary if there is ever to be change. Hence, through the blend of form and language feature, Yeats’ represents the people to be self-sacrificing to convey the experiences of the people to allow the audience to feel compassionate towards such individuals.

The spirituality of self-sacrifice in “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death” is a prominent theme throughout the whole poem. Despite the persona’s lack of self-sacrificing motivation, the audience can understand that the act of participating in a world war or any war at all is still a sacrifice and thus, feels a sense of sympathy towards the speaker. In the elegy, Yeats moves us not for what Gregory was, rather the centralisation of the views and mentality of the persona, causing the audience to see that the sacrifice made by Robert Gregory being no different to the sacrifices made by the other young men during the world war. “Nor law, nor duty bade me fight” has subtle expressive language to encompass the persona’s lack of self-sacrificing motivation yet, Yeats portrays the persona as more heroic and special in a different view of personal sacrifice for public fulfilment. Additionally, the poem centralises its persona’s thought on the senselessness of war with the use of metaphor in “a waste of breath the years behind / In balance with this life, this death” to criticize the savage ways of war explaining the pointless ideals of patriotic fervour. The use of chiasmus “I Balanced all, brought all to mind” emphasizing the idea that one must realise that war is not a reasonable way to resolve conflict which suggests that his self-sacrificing death is worthless. Thus, the spirituality of self-sacrifice can be portrayed in many variations, allowing the audience to empathise with the persona present in the poem.

In conclusion, the poems “Easter 1916” and “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death” characterises the themes of Heroic bravery and personal sacrifice for public fulfilment to provoke the audience to understand and perceive the variations of such ideals and experiences and feelings of the represented people.

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Representation of People in W.B Yeats’ Poetry: Analysis of “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/representation-of-people-in-w-b-yeats-poetry-analysis-of-an-irish-airman-foresees-his-death/
“Representation of People in W.B Yeats’ Poetry: Analysis of “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/representation-of-people-in-w-b-yeats-poetry-analysis-of-an-irish-airman-foresees-his-death/
Representation of People in W.B Yeats’ Poetry: Analysis of “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/representation-of-people-in-w-b-yeats-poetry-analysis-of-an-irish-airman-foresees-his-death/> [Accessed 1 Feb. 2023].
Representation of People in W.B Yeats’ Poetry: Analysis of “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/representation-of-people-in-w-b-yeats-poetry-analysis-of-an-irish-airman-foresees-his-death/
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