Yeats’ Exploration of the Importance of History in ‘September 1913’

July 21, 2019 by Essay Writer

September of 1913 was the height of one of the most important trade union disputes in Irish history and the poem “September 1913” is based around this. Yeats was, at the time, a great supporter of the lower classes and attacks middle-class businessmen and Capitalism in general throughout. The use of the phrases ‘greasy till’ and ‘add the halfpence to the pence’ show how shopkeepers were taking in great sums of money and even so, the smallest amounts were counted. There are a number of instances in which Yeats uses the words ‘pray’, ‘prayer’ or ‘praying’, which is obviously a reference to the Church which was an important part of the revolution and protests in Ireland because some people believed they could change the country by simply praying to God and others were certain that the pressure on the government had to be physical. Yeats was a supporter of the latter and shows the hypocrisy of remaining loyal to the Church who encourage everyone to give more money.Yeats repeats the final two lines of each stanza (with a slight variation on the final stanza) which mention ‘O’Leary in the grave’. This is a reference to John O’Leary, a friend and influence on Yeats after he met him and encouraged him to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood to which O’Leary was a senior member. However, after his arrest and execution for high treason, Yeats believes that with his death comes the end or, at least, a hiatus to his desired reform of the country. This could either be the result of, or the reason for, the previous line which states that ‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone’, meaning any idealistic views of Ireland and its culture have been eradicated.Despite his belief that revolutions and change will have to pause until more leaders and heroes, like O’Leary, are found, Yeats writes about extremist revolutions in the second stanza. At first Yeats was pessimistic about the nature of these protests as he believed they would simply result in the government being harsher. However, he came around to the idea of more radical solutions when he saw very little was being achieved from passive protests and this leads him to praise the revolutionaries who have become an irremovable part of society as ‘the names stilled your childish play’. He is as aware as the men who plan and carry out the protests that they are likely to have the ‘hangman’s rope’ waiting for them if they are caught.The third paragraph describes how ‘the wild geese spread’ in reference to the many Irish soldiers who left the country to fight abroad as mercenaries. This is because they either dislike or distrust the Irish government and Yeats claims that this has led to much ‘blood…shed’. It is in this stanza that he uses the names of three historically significant people, the first being Edward Fitzgerald, an English poet who served his country in the army before planning a rebellion in Ireland for which he was arrested and shot. In the next line, he mentions Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone, the latter was the founding member of the United Irishmen’s Organisation which Emmet later joined and rebelled with. After his exile to Europe in 1800, he was able to form alliances with some French factions, who promised to support him with their militaries. However, his plan failed and both Emmet and Tone were captured and executed. Yeats uses these three people, along with O’Leary, to represent the Irish heroes who showed bravery in giving up their lives in an attempt to get what they wanted but achieving little overall.The final stanza explains how Yeats believes that Ireland wishes it could go back and recall ‘those exiles’ back from ‘their loneliness and pain’. The exiles are the heroes Yeats has mentioned previously who have been either exiled or arrested and killed but have sacrificed themselves for their beliefs and their country (‘weighed so lightly what they gave’). This represents how his personal views have changed, as well as those of the public, as he used to resent the protests and revolutions but now he strongly believes that the country needs them in order to achieve home rule. The line ‘some woman’s yellow hair has maddened every mother’s son’ could be a reference to the nationalist ideas which have influenced everyone in some way. The woman with yellow hair is likely to be his lifelong friend Maude Gonne, a nationalist. The final two lines have a slight variation from the previous three stanzas and they answer Yeats’ question as to whether they could bring back the revolutionaries. He decides that he should ‘let them be’ now that they are ‘dead and gone’, either because he sees their hopes of nationalism as gone with them or more likely because he suggests that this is a new start to revolution.

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