A response to the ruthless mercenary employers who locked out their workers in the General Strike in 1913: the poem is also a comment on the refusal of commercial interests to support Yeats appeal for money to build an Art Gallery to house the Lane collection. The poem is a scathing criticism of the mercenary materialism he felt was rampant in the Ireland of 1913. The Scrooge image first introduced in fumble in a greasy till is a devastating swipe at the captains of industry and commerce. The wooden till has become shiny (greasy) with over-use: the word fumble suggests the idea of the body being withered in the relentless pursuit of money for its own sake. Yet these people can justify or excuse their materialism through religion. That materialism and life of the spirit cannot be reconciled is tellingly conveyed in pray and save. Prayer, love of God, something which is surely full of warmth and passion, is here described as shivering. The barren, shivering hypocrisy of these people is bitterly and sarcastically hammered home. Then comes the refrain - Romantic Irelands dead and gone. Its with OLeary in the grave. John OLeary, an old Fenian, emerges as the antithesis of the greedy, sordid, grasping Dublin merchants. OLeary is a symbol of integrity, idealism and vision. John OLeary reached that independence and freedom was something spiritual, freedom of spirit and the opportunity to turn dreams into reality. The spirit of Romance is gone from the year 1913. No idealism now: just cynicism and greed. The verse is pregnant with sarcasm, a tone of utter revolution, but the tone begins to soften with the mention of OLeary. There is a dramatic change of rhythm as Yeats reverentially surveys the Ireland that is dead and gone. Contempt evaporates as an elevated rhythm develops as he almost whispers in awe and wonder about the idealistic romantic heroes of Irish History who sacrificed all the material things life has to offer, to pursue an ideal, a vision, a dream. Even the target of his attack - the business community - once stood in awe of these heroes, that is, before materialism infected their minds. The idealists of Irish history paid for their visions with their lives, or those lucky to escape were misled and pursued their dream in the armies of France and Austria. In Stanza 3 the rhythm changes again - the staccato use of monosyllabic words - as Yeats hammers home his thesis of the extinction of idealism in Ireland. Fitzgerald, Emmet and Tone were three particular Romantic Irishmen. In Stanza 4, Yeats turns the sarcastic and cynical remark of the materialistic new Irishmen back on themselves with the scintillating use of weighted in line 30. Remember that to weigh refers to materialistic things - the shopkeeper weighing out the flour, tea, sugar, nails, cement, etc. - and weigh in the sense of a deep balancing of things in the mind. This is the coup de grace. The reader cannot fail to see that the noble madness (delirium) of the brave is so much superior to the cynicism of Some womans yellow hair has maddened every mothers son. Yeats is comparing the braveness of the patriots with the selfishness of the merchants. The word delirium conveys many things madness, for example, but also fever and idealism - and in this use it contains good and bad aspects, it is well suited to expressing Yeats attitude to the heroes. We can see, however, that this attitude falls more on the edge of praise and criticism, since he ends the description by calling them the brave. In general, Yeats wants to maintain a balance in the phrase a recognition of both the sacrifices and the extremism of the heroes.
2nd Set of Notes
The poem is an attack by Yeats on the employers and merchants of Dublin. It was provoked by the lockout of September 1913 in which all members of the ITGWU were locked out by their employers, giving rise to a winter of poverty and confrontation in the city of Dublin and resulting in victory for the employers. Yeats was particularly annoyed with the man who led the employers, William Martin Murphy, owner of Independent Newspapers and the Dublin Tram Company. As he had refused to organise the necessary money to purchase an art gallery overlooking the Liffey, to house the Hugh Lane collection of paintings in 1911. The lockout was the third major disappointment for Yeats in the artistic appreciation of Dubliners. The first being the riots in 1907 which greeted the opening night of J.M. Singe's "Playboy of The Western World" at the Abbey Theatre. The second involving a dispute over the Hugh Lane collection. The third being the lockout.
The poem begins with a direct address by Yeats to the shopkeepers and merchants of Dublin. "What need you, being come to sense" - you have little need in your pragmatic minds, "but fumble in a greasy till" - but concern yourselves with material things, "and add the half-pence to the pence and prayer to shivering prayer" - to concern yourself with profit and prayer as an investment for the future out of fear, "until you have dried the marrow from the bone" - until you have drained away all the life from a nation when concentrating totally on petty Philistine interests and denying the people romance and art, patriotism and heroism. The third last line, line 6, "for men who were born to pray and save" - is a caustic comment by Yeats on contemporary Dubliners suggesting that they are capable of only living this life in fear of the next. The word, pray, is an intended pun on the word, prey, in which Yeats pictures the merchants of Dublin preying on the pennies of the poor. The final two lines of the stanza introduce a refrain that becomes a constant throughout the poem in which Yeats laments the death of his friend, John O'Leary. O'Leary represents for Yeats the type of Irishman who commanded respect as a member of the IRB, he had fought in 1867 but he was not just a soldier and patriot, he was an intellectual and a writer. The death of O'Leary marks for Yeats the passing of an era in which cultural and political nationalism paralleled each other. Contemporary Ireland, for Yeats, lacks his patriotic element, the death of O'Leary and the use of the word "grave" cast an air of finality over the message of the opening stanza.
Stanza two sets a different tone as Yeats reminisces about the past. The dominant tone is one of reverence and respect for the patriots of Irelands past. The opening line immediately separates the subjects of this stanza from those of the opening stanza "Yet they were of a different kind". In line two the effect of those patriots on a young generation is represented in the image "the names that stilled your childish play". In line three he points to their international reputations. He sees their exiles as facilitating missionary work on behalf of Nationalism. So full were their lives in serving the cause of Ireland that they had little time for prayer, for fear, for insurance, not for them the safety of a greasy till but the certainty of a hangman's rope. Now Yeats recognises that their sacrifices have been in vain "And what, God help us, could they save?". The stanza concludes once more with the refrain scoring even deeper the finality of Yeats' thoughts.
In stanza three the poet asks the question whether it was worth the lives of these past patriots to see the Ireland of 1913 which seemingly had rejected all their values.(Not Complete)
Home : W.B. Yeats (1865 - 1939) : Among School Children : No Second Troy : The Circus Animals' Desertion : Sailing to Byzantium : The Fisherman