W. B. Yeats’s poem ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his Death’ and Shakespeare’s poem ‘Come Away, Come Away, Death’ both deal with the theme of impending death, although by varying causes. While the poems employ similar figurative and sonic elements of language, their tone and style vary. Yeats’s poem is primarily a war poem that serves as an elegy for the Irish pilot Major Robert Gregory who died in WWI. As opposed to this Shakespeare’s poem is a lamenting love song sung by the character of Feste in Twelfth Night. Despite being different in setting, they both express an acceptance of death.
While both poems convey an awareness of death approaching, the causes of death are different. Shakespeare’s poem being a lament about unrequited love, deals with death by ‘a fair cruel maid’ (4). The awareness and acceptance of looming death is reflected in the opening two lines ‘Come away, come away death, | and in sad cypress let me be laid.’ (1,2). The repetition of ‘come away’ reflects the speaker’s readiness to face death, which is further echoed in the choice of word ‘let’. The speaker beseeches death to allow him to be laid to rest.
Similarly in Yeats’s poem, the awareness of death is expressed in the opening lines of the poem ‘I know that I shall meet my fate | Somewhere among the clouds above;’ (1,2). However, as opposed to Shakespeare’s poem, Yeats’s speaker is accepting death at the hands of war. ‘Somewhere among the clouds above’ (2) is a metaphor for death in battle in the sky. This idyllic description is in contrast to what it is referencing, which is a brutal death in war. The speaker’s acceptance of death is expressed in the closing line of the poem. He concludes that a life in which he faces death is more thrilling than a life that is spent waiting for death. The poem ends with the speaker choosing ‘In balance with this life, this death.’ (16). A form of acceptance that the consequence of such a thrilling life is death.
Both poems are made up of sixteen lines, with an alternate rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGHGH. This use of a simple rhyme scheme, guides the reader’s ear by providing a continuous, regular rhythm. This regular rhythm, reminiscent of the rhythm of a funeral march, creates a somber atmosphere that amplifies the tone of the poems, the coming to peace with death. The regularity of the rhythm is further intensified by the use of poetic devices such as alliteration, caesura and repetition.
In Yeats’s poem the regularity of rhythm is augmented by the same length of lines with a tetrameter that...