Yeats – Easter 1916 (1921)

Dated September 25, 1916, but not published in the volume Michael Robartes and the Dancer until 1921. Refers to the Irish uprising of 1916 (cf. September 1913). Opens with anonymity of the urban (cf. Wordsworth’s peregrinations in London and Eliot’s “Burial of the Dead” section for more on “faces”). First stanza ends with refrain that will be repeated thrice:

Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

The effect is chorus-like, umpersonal construction. The next stanza continues the trope of comedy (motley, casual comedy, etc.) but gives it tragic (now fatal b/c of repetition) ending: A terrible beauty is born. Final stanza marks out the role of poetry interrelationship to the divine and human sufficiency. The question: where is hope and how?

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name

And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in verse –
ManDonagh and MacBride
And Connoly and Pearse
Now in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Direct citation of names recalls similar move in September 1913. Can think of this murmuring as working around to dialectically mediated articulation of beauty. Connect perhaps to Ithaca chapter in Ulysses, where referential specificity amounts to an epiphany. But here it is death in particular that is being raised to cathartic status (talk about the problems but also the necessities of this life-art exchange). Also, remark on the universality of this poem: “All changed” is connected with tiny domestic troubles and the death of four men on  one day in 1916. Yeats is constructing a new relationship between universal and particular and their relationship to historical transformation.


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