An Irish Airman foresees his Death, W B Yeats – an Analysis

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Title
That’s both maudlin and too accepting. But a sad truth considering the time.

Gut Reaction
All the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.

What does it all mean?
A young Irishman attempts to come to terms with his probable death during battle.

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;

This is an airman so I assume he is part of the RAF.

Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;

He doesn’t hate his enemy or love his comrades, he is doing his duty? He might not feel he has to but there is something here, some message of doing what must be done but not for personal gain.

My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,

He is telling us where he is from and that his background is a poor one.

No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.

He’s saying that the people back home wouldn’t care either way if he dies, that it is no great loss? Or does he mean on the grander scale that his homeland will neither suffer nor benefit from winning the war.

Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,

A somewhat rare admission: he didn’t sign up because he either felt he had to or was seeking glory.

A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;

It was an impulse that made him join. A singular comment? Experience?
Tumult – imagine flying in a beautiful Lancaster; graceful, yes, but noisy, not only from the plane itself but surrounded by the noise of dogfights around it attempting to protect bombers enroute. Or perhaps he himself is a pilot and part of the dogfight originating as an escort for the Lancaster.

I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind

He weighed up his options and nothing in his past was of much worth, so his future he didn’t see any more optimistically.

In balance with this life, this death.
I guess we do see life as the opposite of death. But isn’t being born, the act of coming alive, the actual true opposite of death? Just a thought. It feels like he doesn’t seem to care either way what happens to him.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
One stanza of sixteen lines.

Tone
Accepting. Neutral. Void of emotion.

Suggested rhyme scheme
ababcdcdefefghgh

End stopped and run on lines using both masculine and feminine rhyme. Alliteration and consonance. Iambic pentameter.

Similes and metaphors
waste of breath – pointless?
Tumult – not really a metaphor is it, we know it would have been noisy as hell.

Author’s relationship with their subject
Cold. Lacking any kind of…affection for himself.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Analyses of this beautiful poem point to a political message, fighting a war against people they don’t hate in defence of people they don’t love – are we talking of the England-Ireland situation? It is possible. Also it seems that the lines where the airman is talking about weighing up his choices, that because he has led what he feels to be a wasted life without much hope for his future, his death serves as some kind of karmic balancing act? That is awful!

Signing off
I read this and I still hear Eric Stoltz as Danny “Danny Boy” Daly in Memphis Belle. My mum loves this film and used to watch it on repeat. Quite literally. Five or since times per day on her days off. We quoted lines…

And okay… Clearly the character was attempting to pass off the great work of W B Yeats as his own temporarily but… I forgive… 🙂

I don’t like war. I don’t like bloodshed. I don’t want either side of a war to suffer. Bit that is clearly idealistic nonsense and not how this world works. Which is depressing. We live in such a different world to the one of World War One and yet, honestly? Have we learned anything? When you see all the constant conflict in the world, all day, every day, you’ve got to think that the answer to that question is ‘no’.

Another question. Those men. Those boys! That fought and died, in our names, for our future, for the optimism of a better, more hopeful world…how they must despise us from beyond. What a waste. Of time. Of life. Of hope. But then…is hope ever a waste?

One day, perhaps, we’ll get it right.

Links

William Butler Yeats

Sparknotes Analysis

When I read this I think of the song… Danny Boy

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