In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I want to highlight an Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865 and was raised in both County Sligo and London. Although his father was a successful artist, Yeats chose to pursue poetry instead of painting. A major Irish nationalist, Yeats began to participate in the Irish Revival movement, which resisted the many pervasive effects of English dominance and sought to advance Irish culture.
Some of his collections include The Wild Swans at Coole, Michael Robartes and the Dancer, The Tower, The Winding Stair and Other Poems, and Last Poems and Plays. The following poem, “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” was initially published in The Wild Swans at Coole in 1919. The speaker is an Irish pilot in World War I who faces impending death. This poem demonstrates his Irish nationalism, as the Irish fought for the English during their own battle for independence. This brief poem also has a relatively basic structure. The lines are written in iambic tetrameter and have an abab rhyme scheme.
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, 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.
His writing was heavily influenced by Irish heritage, especially traditional folklore and mythology. Maud Gonne, a female Irish nationalist, also impacted his literature. Ezra Pound became another one of his influences after 1910.
Yeats was both a literary and political figure in Irish culture. In 1922, he was selected to be an Irish Free State senator. Yeats also established the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and became a notable playwright. Considered one of the foremost poets in both Ireland and the world in the twentieth century, Yeats received the Nobel Prize in 1923. He passed away in 1939.