Easter, 1916

Easter, 1916
In April 1916, the Easter Rising (or Easter Rebellion) began. The Irish Republicans wanted to end the British rule in Ireland. William Butler Yeats wrote a poem about these events. This poem was published on September 25, 1916.

In April 1916, the Easter Rising (or Easter Rebellion) began. The Irish Republicans wanted to end the British rule in Ireland. William Butler Yeats wrote a poem about these events. This poem was published on September 25, 1916.

The Proclamation
The Easter Proclamation of 1916 Source: Wikimedia Commons

Historical events

The poem is based on historical events. These events took place mostly in the Irish city Dublin. This uprise lasted from April 24 until April 30. It was one of the most important political events in the modern history of Ireland. The Irish Volunteers tried to change the future of Ireland.

On Easter Monday a seven-man Military Council of The Irish Republican Brotherhood started their uprise. This marked the beginning of the divided Irish island. A situation that has not been changed since then. Ireland gained its independence (1919) and Northern Ireland remained part of Great Britain.

 

"We serve neither King nor Kaiser"
“We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland”
The Irish Citizen Army Group outside Liberty Hall in Dublin in 1914, two years before the Easter Rising
Source

 

Analysis

The poem written by Yeats tells us about the Easter Rising of 1916. It tells us about those sixteen leaders of the Easter Rising that were executed. This had a great impact on Yeats. He considered them to be ‘normal’ people. Before April 1916, these were people who held normal jobs.

In the poem, Yeats tells us how he saw the Irish Republicans passing him by on the street. Although he doesn’t name them, he knows these men:

 

Cárcel de Kilmainham, Dublín
Cárcel de Kilmainham, Dublín
Here most of the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although he knows all of these rebels, he feels reluctant to enter the conflict. He even wonders if it was worth all of it. The Easter Rising did not give Ireland its immediate independence. Based on the situation in 1916, it wasn’t really clear if the country would ever be free.

Did you notice there are four stanzas in this poem? That is because the Easter Rising took place in the fourth month of the year (April).

 

Easter, 1916

 

Easter, 1916

 

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
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.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd 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.
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 number 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.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

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,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

– William Butler Yeats

Title
Easter, 1916
Article Name
Easter, 1916
Summary
A poem about the Easter Rising (1916)
Author
Publisher Name
The Ministry of Poetic Affairs

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