Yeats‘ Easter, 1916 describes the poet’s sentiments concerning Easter Rising staged in Ireland against British rule on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. The people who took part in Dublin in Easter 1916 were commonplace people whom he interacted with on a daily basis. He had quite often witnessed their sparkling faces, and traded greetings with them and shared humorous moments with them. The greeting comprised of “polite meaningless words.” As they continued to thrive in a world of bliss, such was the turn of events that it gave way to something appalling enough to comprehend. The sacrifices for the nation was commendable, but it was heart-rending that it did lead to their death.
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
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.
They thrived in a world where everything was a joke, and they functioned as clowns in such a set up. They indulged in mockeries and jibes just to please the other. And, now everything changes as if there was no reverting back to good times. Though they held vivid faces distinct from one another they were united in the common identity, and united in their thirst for freedom. The line:” A terrible beauty is born.” is repeated to enhance the idea that incredible valor was born out of the unexpected war towards Irish Independence from England The revolution was therefore beautiful in itself, which is why the line is reiterated. The poet goes on to elaborate on people involved in the uprising. Without resorting to actual names; he summarizes his relationship with them. The rebellion had altered their fundamental personalities. Countess Markievicz, who was in “ignorant good-will, / Her night in argument / Until her voice grew shrill.” She was thus an insignia of idealism and eloquent voicing of concerns. While her conformist attitude did not actually crave for independence, as at that point, these were not translated into favourable action. Patrick Pearse, is the school master mentioned. Thomas MacDunagh, is described as “his helper and friend” Pearse and MacDunagh were active members of the Gallic League. As they strived for independence, Yeats underlines that they were folks from the common walks of life, who were as harmless as writers and educators. What Yeats purposes to say is that people from any walk of life were capable of bringing about revolution and could not be underestimated by their demeanor, stature or profession.
John MacBride, an Irish revolutionary, the last on the speaker’s list is termed a “vainglorious lout. “A narcissist , he was the estranged husband of Maud Gonne, the lady whom Yeats had loved. The poet now overlooks his ill-treatment of Maud Gonne, as the revolution had induced in him nobility that was hitherto unforeseen. This was another reason for the import of the revolution, that it instilled heroic values even in the egocentric. Their worthless existence was endowed with a worthy purpose. They had “transformed utterly.” Therefore the poet reiterates: “A terrible beauty is born.” The poet shifts focus to the general aspects of nature to reinforce the idea that change is inevitable. He also highlights that change is vital to progressive transformation. The hearts united with one purpose at once reminds one of the current of the river steady in its purpose. The stone is emblematic of an obstacle in opposition to change through the changing seasons. The river of the water is visited by moor-hens and riding horses, while these are animate and the water kinetic, the stone appears to be static. The clouds in contrast represent constant change. The speaker tackles the issue of guilt and justice by making an allusion to Shakespeare’s play Hamlet with the second line, “That is heaven’s part” (the parallel line occurs in Act I, scene V, regarding Gertrude’s guilt: “Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven”). Heaven’s role is to determine when the suffering and sacrifice are sufficient(59-60).(Source: Wikpedia) Though sacrifice is a noble gesture, prolonged sacrifice could render one’s heart hard. The world, in such a situation would be filled with hard-hearted people. They have to be addressed lovingly “as a mother names her child when sleep has come”. The poet asserts that sleep has at last come. Sleep may connote both rest and death. Their incapability to enforce change may be referred to as ”sleep”. It may also refer to sleep as a metaphor of death, where death stands as ultimate escapism.
© Rukhaya MK 2010
The content is the copyright of Rukhaya MK. Any line reproduced from the article has to be appropriately documented by the reader. ©Rukhaya MK. All rights reserved.