Cultural Criticism in W.B.Yeats’ An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
The various levels of interpretation that a poet, such as W.B.Yeats, welcomes to his poems is difficult to grasp upon first reading his poetry. What appears to be a straight forward poem, such as, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, is actually an intellectual cultural criticism of Yeats’ modern day society. The poem, written as a testament to Lady Gregory’s son, captures the innermost concerns and perceptions of an Irish airman in World War I. However, through Yeats’ sentimental and poetic style, the poem incorporates a double meaning, and hence, focuses on Irish nationalism and its lack of an international consciencesness. The airman is Ireland personified, and his outlook on war and society is a window into the desolate situation that Ireland faces.
As the title suggests, there is a sense of imminent doom for the soldier (Ireland). He foresees his death, but has not yet experienced it and does nothing to prevent it. The poem is written in the first person which gives a first hand feel for the tragic loss that the Irish soldier will experience. (i.e. his own death). Yeats is making a subtle commentary on the state of his modern Ireland. He can foresee her doom, yet, unlike the subject of his poem, does not sit back and accept his fate. The lack of a unified republic in Ireland and the ominous presence of English colonization, stand in the way of progression for the Irish people. Yeats writes a poetry (specifically, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death) to open the eyes of the world to the shadow of desolation that covers Ireland like an umbrella. Lady Gregory’s son is used as a catalyst to project Yeats’ imagery of Ireland’s desperate situation. The sense of impending doom that Yeats suggests is taken from the title and incorporated into the fist line of the poem.
Eminent death and desperation is probable from Yeats’ invocation of dreary imagery. The use of ‘fate’ to describe the airman’s mortality gives a feeling of a predestination to his existence. The connotation of the word is that of a predetermined set of ideas put fourth into action. Hence, a sense of melancholy is obvious in Yeats’ first two lines. “I know I shall meet my fate / Somewhere among the clouds above,” (lines 1-2). Similarly, with the imagery of clouds, perhaps an assent into heavenly rhelms is implied, solidifying the notion of death and departure. Again, the desperation of the airman, who acts as a spectator in the unveiling of his dreary ‘fate’ is evident in Yeats’ description.
Furthermore, he neither hates his enemy, nor loves those he ‘guards.’ The implication of “guarding” a people incorporates imagery of a gallant soldier shielding a defenseless subject from an unjust and brutal enemy. A seemingly heroic and gentle invocation of the airman’s principals, regardless of his love for them or not, is implied by Yeats’ use of vocabulary. Taking Yeats’ imagery a step...