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Conflicting Themes In The Poetry Of W. B. Yeats

1447 words - 6 pages

In analysing the poetry of W.B. Yeats, I have come to understand the multiple conflicting themes and positions he presents in his poetry. However, my understanding has been influenced most by Yeats’s exploration of key conflicts in ageing along with political anarchy. These are conveyed respectively in the poems “Wild Swans at Coole” (1916) and “Leda and the Swan” (1923), using the central symbol of the swan. In “Wild Swans at Coole”, Yeats conveys the conflict within his heart; where he is an ageing, old man opposed to the young, revitalised swans. He laments the loss of his playful energy which he sees in the abundance of love and vitality in the swans. In “Leda and the Swan”, Yeats conveys the political dichotomy of the Irish nationalistic struggle against the opposing British suppression; exemplified by the swan’s advances towards the vulnerable Leda.
Yeats presents the key conflict of ageing through exploring his own life in decline compared to the spiritual transcendence of the swans in “Wild Swans at Coole”. Yeats wrote this poem in October 1916 after his latest rejection by Maud Gonne, following the death of her husband, John MacBride, in the Easter Rebellion. Yeats therefore reflects on the inertia of his own life, while regathering himself at Lady Gregory’s Coole Park estate. While revolving around the idea that sexual fulfilment with Maud has been lost. Yeats retains the last of his romantic preoccupations in perceiving a spiritual element through the natural world, where nature is reflective of youth and beauty. The main way this is conveyed is through the swans, symbolising youth, vitality and freedom, the conflicting position to Yeats’s personal state.
Yeats conveys this through a reflective, sorrowful tone, as he first concentrates on his ageing as a fundamentally bleak position. The sense of bleakness is immediately conveyed through an autumn setting, with connotations of ageing and decline from the summer peak. Yeats draws connection between this change and his own state, where, now fifty-one, romance with Maud was never going to lead to marriage. This decline is continued in “the October twilight”, which, for Ireland, saw the return of steely, grey skies, with a sense of impending death. As the “twilight” is between both day and night, Yeats feels his youth is like the disappearing light. “The nineteenth autumn” represents the passing of time, as he first proposed to Maud nineteen years ago, and she had, as now, rejected him. This is his own way of reflecting on the passing of time, that, between these proposals, he is in the same position as before, only with a loss of vitality and a dimmed passion. Later on, Yeats reminisces the time when he felt unity between himself and nature as “the bell-beat of wings above my head”. The allusion to church bells holds connotations of ritual, and reminds him of the passing of time. There is juxtaposition in age and emotion to when he “trod with a lighter tread”. This contributes to the...

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