Eng 205 Higgins
February 13, 2010
For Love of Aviation
"An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" is a poem by Yeats that occurs during the First World War. This poem was written in memory of Robert Gregory, the son of Yeats's patron, Lady Gregory. Robert Gregory was a member of the British Royal Flying Corps. He was killed in 1918 in battle. The title of this poem informs the reader of the reflective nature of the speaker regarding his death and his life. Throughout the poem, the speakers seem to be questioning his existence and the quality of his life. The poem has a dual presence in the literary world as both a poem regarding death and a poem regarding World War I. Yeats never hid his political opinions and those are central in the lines "Those that I fight I do not hate/those that I guard I do not love". Yeats uses these lines to make a political statement about the Irish War for Independence and British occupation and presence.
The speaker's attitude towards his imminent death is ambivalent through the use of his language and the reflective nature of the poem. Yeats intentionally gives him a superficial history and a nonexistent future. His airman is generic and lacking character, he is very existentialist in his thoughts. The only thing that seems to elicit emotion from the airman is aviation. The line "lonely impulse of delight" refers to the joy of flying.
It seems though flying is his only motivation and his only goal in life is to achieve flight, even at pain of death. The airman was willing to risk death, not for obligations, honor, or glory but for the chance to live among the clouds, however briefly, and the chance to die there, doing what he loved. Some may believe that the "lonely impulse of delight" refers to battle, but I feel the speaker's apathetic attitude in the poem negates that idea. He also seems to be at complete ease with his death; he had fulfilled all his life's goals. Yeats establishes an overtone of finality with fate and death being the last words of lines 1 and 16. In weighing the balance between life and death, he seems to find peace in the fact that his life will be over soon.
The structure of the poem reveals the sense of balance the speaker is considering between life and death. The poem is comprised of four quatrains which give it a balanced appearance and divide the poem into distinct thought patterns of the speaker. The rhyme scheme is simple to let the clarity of the language and the poem's meaning shine through. The poem culminates in only about three lines with a temporal shift to the present. I think this abrupt end is representative of the anticipated short end to the airman's life in...