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Previous Quarterly Reads > Feb-Mar: September 1913

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message 1: by Emma (new)

Emma Flanagan (emma89) September 1913
BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone;
For men were born to pray and save:
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You’d cry, ‘Some woman’s yellow hair
Has maddened every mother’s son’:
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they’re dead and gone,
They’re with O’Leary in the grave.

Yeats reciting 1st verse: https://youtu.be/bqtGeuxdys4


message 2: by Emma (last edited Jan 30, 2017 11:54PM) (new)

Emma Flanagan (emma89) For those who may not know much about Yeats I've tried to provide some brief context.
WB Yeats (3 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) is one of Ireland's greatest poets and the father of modern Irish poetry. Born into a family who were part of the Anglo Irish Protestant Ascendancy he grew up between Dublin, London and Sligo. Yeats was an important figure in the Celtic Revival, a period during the late 19th and early 20th century in the years preceding Irish Independence where their was renewed cultural influence in the Irish language, history, folklore and culture. Much of Yeats's work was heavily influenced by his interest in Irish folklore. Along with Lady Gregory he founded the Abbey Theatre - Ireland's national theatre. Yeats was an Irish Nationalist but took no part in movement for Irish Independence between 1916 and 1921 though he knew and was friends with many who did. After the founding of the Free State he served as a senator. In 1923 Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in 1939 in France.

September 1913 was published originally in the Irish Times in September 1913 under the title Romance in Ireland (On reading much of the correspondence against the Art gallery) as part of Yeats ongoing criticism for the failure of Dublin Corporation to fund and find a suitable home for a collection of paintings which had been donated by Sir Hugh Lane (they are now housed in the Hugh Lane Gallery on Parnell Square which is worth a visit). However over time it has become mixed up with bigger political events. In August 1913 the Lockout had begun. The 1913 Lockout was a general strike by the workers of Dublin over their right to join a union and receive fair pay. At the time Dublin had some of the worst slums in Europe and little industry. Most of the city workers were unskilled, working in casual work such as dockers etc. They were at the mercy of their employers who opposed membership of trade unions. In August 1913 increasing tensions between the main employers and the workers resulted in the workers being locked out of their work. The Lockout lasted until January 1914 when the workers finally gave in and agreed to not join trade unions. It is generally considered the longest and worst industrial dispute in Ireland. Anyone in the group who's read Strumpet City (a quarterly read a few years ago) will be familiar with the background to the Lockout.


message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan | 4707 comments Thank you for the background, Emma. It was great.


message 4: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 151 comments Thanks Emma!


message 5: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 151 comments We read this poem in school and were assured that Yeats later wrote a poem called Easter 1916. This one supported the people of the Rising.


message 6: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 151 comments All of Yeats' work is out of copyright since 2013.


message 7: by Serf (new)

Serf I remember studying this poem is school and what I took from it was Yeats disgust at the greed and materialistic nature of those in power. why did all those who fought for freedom die? was it so the poor could be poorer and the rich fumble in their greasy til. it's a very angry poem at social injustice


message 8: by Emma (new)

Emma Flanagan (emma89) Came across this article about Yeats death which people may find interesting.

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/the...


message 9: by SherryRose (new)

SherryRose | 0 comments Emma, the article is fascinating. From his open marriage to his occult practices to his double burial. He was very interesting for sure.


message 10: by Emma (new)

Emma Flanagan (emma89) Sherry wrote: "Emma, the article is fascinating. From his open marriage to his occult practices to his double burial. He was very interesting for sure."

Sherry I'm not sure where you got open marriage from. Yeats had a number of strong relationships with women and was famously in love with Maud Gone, whom he proposed to three times and then when she refused him the final time went out and proposed to her adult daughter who quite rightly turned him down. There is no evidence though that his relationships with any of them strayed beyond the world of literature and the page. All evidence is Yeats while a great romantic was a bit socially inept and probably on the autistic spectrum, as many geniuses are.


message 11: by Emma (new)

Emma Flanagan (emma89) Like Seraphina I studied this in school for my leaving cert. It's generally read in conjunction with Easter 1916.

I'm not sure I can see how it would have tied into the controversy over where to house the Hugh Lane paintings despite apparently being written about it. It is a very angry poem and I think one that is as relevant today as when it was written. The idea that society has become too focused on material wealth and forgotten the things we once valued.

I think Yeats as a Nationalist is also giving out that people have forgotten about the struggle for Irish freedom, forgotten why people like Robert Emmet and Theobold Wolfe Tone died. In 1913 of course Ireland has set aside the push for freedom and instead is working on the Home Rule Bill (it would be passsed in 1914 just before WW1 begins but suspended for the duration of the war). It's what of course makes it such a contrast to Easter 1916. Interestingly after the Rising Yeats blamed himself for the role he may have played in encouraging those involved. He never directly encouraged the events of the Easter Rising but he feared about the role his poems and plays, in particular Cathleen Ní Houlihan, played in feeding the fervour of those involved.


message 12: by Emma (new)

Emma Flanagan (emma89) For those interested here is a link to Easter 1916. It's a poem which is much quoted particularly the past year. Even Obama and Biden quoted from it recently. The quote used most often is:

All changed, changed utterly;
A terrible beauty is born.

Link to poem: https://apoemforireland.rte.ie/shortl...

Liam Neeson reading it: https://youtu.be/VLt_OuzW9n0


message 13: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Murphy-Winger | 1 comments Hello Everyone,

I'm new here, so forgive me if I blunder!

In his angry outcry at the public opposition to funding a home for what he considered an importand cultural gift, I also hear Yeats' sadness and disappointment in the loss of the traditional ideals that made Ireland great. The poem can almost be read as an elegy, so mournful. A sense of finality and acceptance that there's nothing to be done. All of the dreamers and romantics are in the grave with O'Leary. And for what? Money? The "wild geese" leaving for brighter shores?
Why did these dreamers die if the dreams they fought for were gone to the grave with them?

Thank you all for sharing your wonderful insights!

Teresa Murphy Winger


message 14: by SherryRose (new)

SherryRose | 0 comments Emma wrote: "Sherry wrote: "Emma, the article is fascinating. From his open marriage to his occult practices to his double burial. He was very interesting for sure."

Sherry I'm not sure where you got open marr..."


I didn't reread the article but I thought it said his wife and mistress were both at his death bed. I must have read it too fast.


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