Facing the Reality of Death:

 A Critical Analysis of

"In Memory of Major Robert Gregory"

By William Butler Yeats


"I would select this poem out of all others of our time as the most completely expressed; it has a perfect articulation and lucidity which cannot be found in any other modern poem in English" [Allen Tate, Yeats: A collection of critical essays, p.160].

Full Text of the Poem    Part I Analysis    Part II Analysis    Part III Analysis    Part IV Analysis    Conclusion     Credits

   In February 1918, Robert Gregory, a major in the British air force, died while fighting in battle over Italy.  In the eyes of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, Robert Gregory was a fine, young, Renaissance man, whom he described as a “soldier, scholar, horseman.” To help his dear friend Lady Gregory cope with the loss of her son and to ease his own pain, Yeats writes the poem, “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory.”  Many scholars suggest that this poem is the finest elegy in the English language since Lycidas.  In the poem, Yeats compares Robert Gregory to three deceased friends, each of whom exhibits a characteristic that Robert Gregory embodies.  In writing this poem, Yeats’s attempt at catharsis fails, as he realizes that his emotions in response to the death are beyond words.  A mere poem cannot fully express his grief or commemorate a man’s life.  Although he has learned to appreciate the value of human life, Yeats must come to terms with the loss of his friend before he can come of age.