William Butler Yeats



Analysis of Stanzas 2 and 3


                                                                       That woman's days were spent

                                                                        In ignorant good-will,

                                                                        Her nights in argument

                                                                        Until her voice grew shrill.                                   20

                                                                        What voice more sweet than hers

                                                                        When, young and beautiful,

                                                                        She rode to harriers?

                                                                        This man had kept a school

                                                                        And rode our winged horse;                                                                                                        

                                                                        This other his helper and friend

                                                                        Was coming into his force;

                                                                        He might have won fame in the end,

                                                                        So sensitive his nature seemed,

                                                                        So daring and sweet his thought.                          30

                                                                        This other man I had dreamed

                                                                        A drunken, vainglorious lout.

                                                                        He had done most bitter wrong

                                                                        To some who are near my heart,

                                                                        Yet I know him in the song;

                                                                        He, too, has resigned his part

                                                                        In the casual comedy;

                                                                        He, too, has been changed in his turn,

                                                                        Transformed utterly:

                                                                        A terrible beauty is born.                                        40



        Although Yeats memorializes the patriots of Easter 1916, He conveys their humanity and imperfections.  Yeats illustrates the stagnant indifference and conformity in  Ireland prior to the Rebellion through his description of the leading figures in the Easter Rebellion.   Yeats characterizes Constance Markievicz  as a figure of "ignorant good-will, / Her night in argument / Until her voice grew shrill " (18-20).  Through this portrayal of Markievicz, Yeats suggests that the dream of Irish independence has not yet become reality because people talked of rebellion and politics, but before Easter 1916, they obediently conformed to England's rule rather than actively pursing change.  The imagery of Markievicz arguing "Until her voice grew shrill"(20) but maintaining a life of "ignorant good-will"(18) illustrates the deceptive nature of appearances.  Although these figures purposefully lobbied for Irish independence, there contributions had primarily consisted of lofty ideas and passionate discussions rather that thoughtful action.  They maintained the appearance of dedicated revolutionaries, but until "A terrible beauty is born"(40) they continue to merely appear to desire change rather than actively pursue change.  


        Yeats continues to describe Patrick  Pearse, "a man who had kept a school"(24) and Thomas MacDunagh, "his helper and friend"(26).  Pearse and MacDunagh were both members of the Gallic League and were actively involved in Ireland's fight for independence.  Yeats portrays these two figures favorably, but he emphasizes the simplicity of their lives by alluding to their skill as writers and educators.  By focusing on their daily life, rather than their political involvement, Yeats suggests the humanity of Ireland's heroes and indicates that common citizens have the ability to effect a change in society if they rebel against obedient conformity and "ignorant good-will"(18).  


        In stanza three, Yeats portrays John MacBride, an Irish revolutionary and the estranged husband of Maud Gonne, as a "vainglorous lout"(32).  Although Yeats personally despised MacBride because "He had done most bitter wrong / To some who are near my heart"(33-34),  Yeats maintains that "He, too, has been changed in his turn"(38).  Yeats implies that the figures of the Easter Rebellion should be respected for their participation in an event that will evoke change in Ireland.  Yeats conveys the imagery of imperfect figures as  heroes to emphasize this change that has effected  the lives of martyrs of the Easter Rebellion and the citizens of Ireland as a nation.  Evaluated on their individual merits, the participants of the Easter Rebellion are one of many insignificant figures shouting to be heard until their "voice grew shrill"(20).  Because they took action and passionately evoked change in Irish society, Yeats memorializes these individuals as heroes and patriots despite their personal merits prior to the Rebellion.  


        In the final lines of stanza three, Yeats indicates that these individuals have "Transformed utterly"(39).  Through their efforts to instigate change in Ireland, these figures establish their own coming of age.  Yeats emphasizes that by rebelling against the established ruling class, the martyrs of the Easter Rebellion overcome their former weaknesses and establish their memory as heroes.  Rather than subject to English rule, Ireland progresses down a path of independence, responsibility, change, and hardship as "A terrible beauty is born"(40).


                                                                                                                                                                                -By Kelley Magill



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