Yeats – September 1913 (1914)

From the volume Responsibilities (1914), which continues the move away from magical Irish past in Green Helmet, but now explicitly linking that move to the political environment of the day. The first epigraph “In dreams begin responsibility” can be read as a direct overhaul of his previous ideas concerning the role of poetry and the poet (cf. Wandering Aengus). in his essay on the volume, Pound would declare that Yeats had struck “a new note,” more harsh and severe–apparent in “minor ways” in the Green Helmet collection.

“September 1913” refers to the workers strike, which for Yeats is directly linked to “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone.” The opening describes in sordid detail the miserliness characteristic of Ireland’s rulers (“fumble in greasy til / And add the halfpence to the pence”). He laments the squandered deaths of particular Irish heroes by name–looking forward to the specificity of citation that will arise in other late poems. Formally,the four stanzas comprised of eight lines of alternating verse. But after the first stanza, the rhymes begin to break down (kind/wind; again/pain; were/hair). Yeats is working in a form struggling against its material. Crucially, this poem is about Ireland not living up to it Romantic past; Yeats is not saying that such a past did not exist or is not interesting. He is locating an historical rupture. The final stanze looks back to “No Second Troy,” when it accuses “You” of consigning the uprising to a unbridled passion inspired by “some woman’s yellow hair.” Yeats is saying, no, that sort of use of history and myth is not appropriate to explaining the workers strike of 1913.


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