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An Irish Airman Forsees His Death

William Butler Yeats

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Added by: Leonard Cottrell
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Four-square. Four ABAB quatrains each with four lines and four (feet or)beats in each line. Clear determination, nothing extra. The sure matter-of-factness contrast with the disturbing message. he feels no emnity to the Germans and no love for the British (WWI) but flies combat missions on the strength of an irrational "lonely impulse of delight". Probably drawn from life.
Added by: Amy Kimber
I think this one was refering to Major Gregory (son of Lady Gregory) who died in the war (see In memory of...). Lady Gregory lived at Coole Park (Wild Swans at...).
One of my faves this one, the "I balanced all" bit really puts things into focus.
Added by: Ragnar Anderssen
Major Robert Gregory was Irish, and of course, the Irish War for Independence was around 1914. So it's easy to see how one has no love for the British, especially Yeats, an Irish nationalist, and Lady Augusta Gregory herself probably so as well.
An Irishman Foresees his death
Added by: Tania Valladares
“An Irishman Foresees His Death” was written at the request of Lady Gregory; it was intended as an epitaph for her son Robert. The poem captures the senseless death of the young men who fought in the First World War. The rhyming poem is one stanza in length and it is written in first-person perspective. The title yields to the inevitability of death, as the speaker has already conceded his demise. The poem characterizes the tragic position of the Irish in the First World War, as they were forced to fight for the United Kingdom, although the only enemies of Ireland were the British rulers who refused their nationhood. Yeats utilizes paradox to illustrate the speaker’s condition: “Those that I fight I do not hate/ Those that I guard I do not love” (3-4).
The speaker illustrates the uselessness of the war, as he is fighting for the British the outcome will have no affect on his countrymen, “Kiltartan’s poor,” Kiltartan was the village just outside Coole Park, Lady Gregory’s residence. Thus, the speaker affiliates himself with the cause of Irish patriotism instead of the First World War effort of the Commonwealth. Ironically, the speaker does not fight for the reasons soldiers usually catalog: “Nor law, nor duty bade me fight/Nor public man, nor cheering crowds”(9-10).
Similarly, to “Among the School Children,” the speaker contemplates the worth of his life, and he comes to the decision that it has been a waste of time. He analogizes his past to “a waste of breath,” that is his past has been insignificant. He speculates that his future as well, seems meaningless.

“ I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.” (13-16)

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