E212-M William Butler Yeats Questions

"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" (2092); "Easter 1916" (2104); "The Second Coming" (2106); "Sailing to Byzantium" (2109); "Leda and the Swan" (2110); "Among School Children" (2111); "A Dialogue of Self and Soul" (2113); "Byzantium" (2115); "Crazy Jane... " (2116); "After Long Silence" (2117); "The Circus Animals' Desertion" (2120); "Under Ben Bulben" (2121); from Reveries over Childhood and Youth and The Trembling of the Veil (2124-31).

"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.

"Easter 1916"

2. Aside from praising the Irish Easter Rebellion's executed leaders, what more complex attitude does the speaker adopt towards the sacrifices called for during the struggle for Irish independence? How does the line "a terrible beauty is born" encapsulate this attitude?

"The Second Coming"

3. 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?

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

"Sailing to Byzantium"

5. 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?

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

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

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

"Leda and the Swan"

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

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

"Among School Children"

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

12. 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?

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

14. 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?

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

"A Dialogue of Self and Soul"

16. What are the Soul's primary concerns in this dialogue? On what grounds does the Self justify its choice of rebirth over escape from the cycle of life and death? Which do you find has the better argument, and why?


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

18. 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"

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

"After Long Silence"

20. What opposition between love and art is set up in this short poem? How strictly is it maintained?

"Circus Animals' Desertion"

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

"Under Ben Bulben"

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

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

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

25. 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?

26. 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?

27. 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.

From Reveries over Childhood and Youth and The Trembling of the Veil

28. In the excerpt from Reveries (2124-27), how does Yeats make sense of his long family history and his environment, both as a child and then as an adult looking back on his past notions?

29. In the excerpt from Reveries (2124-27), what main reflection does Yeats offer on his plans for "an Irish literature"? What criticisms does he (directly or indirectly) make of his native land?

30. In an excerpt from The Trembling of the Veil (2127-31), Yeats discusses his early ideas about the Pre-Raphaelites and the later painters who rejected them (2127-28). How does he compare himself to his contemporaries on the subject of art and religion, and what does he apparently think of the views he then expressed to distinguish himself from others?

31. In an excerpt from The Trembling of the Veil (2127-31), Yeats tries to explain the effect Oscar Wilde had on those around him — what special qualities did Wilde have as a speaker and, in general, as "a presence"? What reservations, if any, does Yeats express about Wilde's pronouncements and influence?

32. In the last few excerpts from The Trembling of the Veil (2127-31), Yeats writes about his early poem "Innisfree" and about his membership in The Rhymers' Club. Does his description of "Innisfree's" genesis sound complete enough to be convincing? How does Yeats describe his relationship to the Rhymers and his relative lack of knowledge about the Classical backgrounds of English literature?

Edition: Abrams, M. H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vols. 2A-C. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2000. ISBN 2A = 0393975681, 2B = 039397569X, 2C = 0393975703.