Yeats – No Second Troy (1910)

The poem is part of The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910). It explicitly refers to Yeats’ fractious affair with Maude Gonne, a revolutionary muse that married one of his friends. But this personal event gets couched within a mythical frame imported from Homer, which in turn frames the revolutionary impulses of the Irish. Thus a very good poem for looking at the convergence of the subject, history and politics. Formally, the poem is a series of four questions: the first two are entire quatrains, and they therefore lose their interrogative character as they expand from the inside into something very much like declaration. This reflects Yeats own ambivalence to the the political activities of Gonne and others. The final two questions, one line each (making to lines of alternating rhyme) intimate resignation and awe:

Why, what could she have done, begin what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

Here we see the problematic importation of the mythic impulse into the political landscape of 1910.  Yeats seems to claim that such fervor is ultimately destructive when unleashed by “ignorant men” without “courage equal to desire.” Thus “hurling little streets upon the great” is a diminution of the mythic impulse that cannot entirely disregard the heroism of this poetic-political activity, “simple as a fire.”

 

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