William Butler Yeats


Analysis of poetic structure in "Easter 1916"


           In "Easter 1916," Yeats uses the meter of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.  The rhyme scheme of the poem alternates rhyming lines in an ABAB form.  Yeats varies this structure in order to emphasize specific elements of the poem's content and significance.  

            In stanzas one and three, Yeats predominately uses iambic tetrameter to structure the rhythm of the poem. Although the majority of these stanzas demonstrate iambic tetrameter, lines 6, 8, 11, and 15 contain a trimeter rhythm.   Yeats emphasizes these lines to convey  the triviality of conformity and the change that has developed in Ireland.


I have met them at the close of the day        

Coming with vivid faces

From counter or desk among grey

Eighteenth-century houses.

I have passed with a nod of the head

Or polite meaningless words,

Or have lingered awhile and said

Polite meaningless words,

And thought before I had done

Of a mocking tale or a gibe       10      

To please a companion

Around the fire at the club

Being certain that they and I

But lived where motley is worn:

All changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.



                In stanzas two, four, five, and six; the rhythm maintains a meter of iambic trimeter.  This more condensed form illustrates Yeats's ability to convey numerous ideas, images, and themes into concise language.  Yeats portrays human characters in stanza two, natural images in stanza four, philosophical ideals in stanza five, and resolves all these ideas in stanza six.  Yeats's ability to maintain a consistent meter and rhyme supports his transition through numerous images and ideas and emphasizes the connection among the multiple ideas in the poem.


            Although the meter and rhyme allow for a sense of consistency throughout the poem, the lines in which the structure deviates enhances the overall meaning of the poem.  In stanza five, Yeats deviates from the meter and rhyme patterns to emphasize the loss of life that had to occur in the pursuit of change and identity.  Lines 60 and 67 revert to the iambic tetrameter rhythm in order to emphasize the sacrifice made by the leaders of the Easter Rebellion.  Yeats also has the rhyme scheme deviate from the ABAB pattern in order to emphasize the finitude of the word death.


Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart.

O when may it suffice?

That is Heaven's part, our part             60

To murmur name upon name,

As a mother names her child

When sleep at last has come

On limbs that had run wild.

What is it but nightfall?

No, no, not night but death;

Was it needless death after all?


            Yeats's mastery of language expands his ability to convey the significance of his message.  Through a consistency in form, Yeats maintains a sense of unity; but by allowing for deviations in this structure, he further emphasizes particular elements of the poem to convey Ireland's coming of age through the pursuit of change and identity.  




Back to index stanza 1  stanzas 2 and 3 stanza 4 stanza 5 and 6
Overall Significance Historical Background Scansion View Poem in Entirety