E336: Twentieth-Century British Literature

W.B. Yeats Study Questions

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"The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

1. Compare this poem to a romantic nature lyric -- is there a difference in the relationship posited between nature and the speaker? Explain.

"The Second Coming"

2. What do the poem's last twelve lines suggest about poetry's power to render great events intelligible, or to relate present conditions to future possibilities? Do the last twelve lines clarify the historical situation, or obscure it?

3. What is the significance of the poem's mention of the Sphinx myth?

"Sailing to Byzantium"

4. How do you interpret the line "That is no country for old men"? To what does the word "that" refer? Why isn't "that" a place fit for a dying human being?

5. Why does the speaker need to sail to Byzantium? What must he leave behind, and what is his aim once he arrives in Byzantium?

6. Where are the "sages" in the second stanza, and what does the speaker pray for?

7. How does this poem amount to an attempt on the speaker's part to come to terms with mortality?

"Leda and the Swan"

8. How does the speaker represent the transmission of poetic insight?

9. What statement does the poem make about the origins of Greek civilization, or about the ultimate significance of Greek myth?


10. What is occurring in Byzantium, now that the speaker has arrived there, as he said he wanted to in "Sailing to Byzantium"?

11. How does the poem explore the distance between ordinary human affairs and the world of art and artistic production?

"Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop"

12. How is Crazy Jane's response an appropriate rebuke to the Bishop, who privileges heavenly things at the expense of the body?

"Among School Children"

13. In stanzas 1-4, what does the speaker's consideration of his connection to the schoolchildren allow him to explore?

14. How do stanzas 5-7 follow up on the meditation the speaker has already offered on childhood? What's the relationship between mother and child, as the speaker describes it?

15. How is the eighth and final stanza connected to the earlier parts of the poem?

16. How does this stanza assert the speaker's dignity in the face of advancing age and death? How does the stanza employ the organic metaphor to describe the process of living, dying, and creating art?

17. What does the metaphor of dancing add to the exploration of the theme mentioned in question 4?

"Circus Animals' Desertion"

18. What capacity has the speaker lost? How confident is the speaker in his ability to recover what has been lost?

"Under Ben Bulben"

19. In the first section, to whom is this poem addressed? Who must "swear"?

20. In the second section, what doctrine about the afterlife emerges?

21. In the third section, to whom does the speaker offer an admonishment that "tension" is necessary to human existence?

22. In the fourth section, how does the speaker sum up the ages of art and their effect upon the societies within which they were created?

23. To what extent does the fifth section suggest that the past can serve as the "stuff" of poetic creation? What significance does the present play in this regard?

24. How does the speaker represent his coming to terms with death? Does the epitaph he orders placed on his headstone relate to the relationship between the poet and his work, or to something else? Explain.

Edition: The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th. ed., Vol. 2C only. New York: Norton, 1999. ISBN: 0393975703.