An Irish Airman foresees His Death by William Butler Yeats

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The poem, An Irishman Foresees His Death is the work of William Butler Yeats, an Irish poet who has witnessed a war, believed to be the First World War. The poem has the poetic persona engaging himself in a monologue and this makes the poem a soliloquy.

In this particular poem, Yeats is trying to it can be argued that  the moment captured is an indifferent one, whereby the persona is confronted with the possibility of death but he seems to be handling it with unclear emotions.

Yeats presents to his audience, the readers of the poem, a man who has chosen to take a flight and fight in battle, not out of necessity but out of sheer choice or for fun. But is so happens that the fighter is confronted with a difficult situation where the possibility of death is far much greater than that of survival. Therefore the situation in the poem is extremely serious. A life is on the line and it is not going to be lost in a simple way. It is going to be lost in the air, meaning that it is bound to be a painful death.

The first stanza discloses that the persona is pretty aware of the imminent death and where it will occur. In line 1 and 2 of the first stanza the poem says (…I know that I shall meet my fate….among the clouds).Among the clouds means that he is going to die while flying, a war plane while he participates in war. It is interesting because in this same stanza, he discloses that he does not hate the people he is fighting in this war. He also has no love for the one that he is fighting for. This is a demonstration of participating in the war not as a result of trying to win for one side but to make himself happy. He does it purely out of choice. This is confirmed in the second and third stanza when the poet tells us that the law and duty have not forced him to go to war (line 9 ...nor law nor duty bade me fight).

The last four lines that make the last quatrain reveal a tone of resolve. He had weighed everything (line 13….weighed all, brought all to mind) and realized that both the future and the past were just useless,(lines 14 and 15….a waste of breath).This is someone who has no more future or past calculations either due to the predicament of the moment or general fatigue with life that drove him to take the fighter plane and fight this war. He finally finds a mental rest by seeing a balance between the life he is about to leave and the death that is nigh (line 16….In balance with this life, this death.).

The poet, Yeats is a social critic in this poem. He views the people of Kiltartan as nump.They cannot feel loss and they cannot be happy. These are people who are hopeless. It can also be referring to the state of the persona as adding no value to the poor people of Kiltartan.The poem has a heavy message.It is about a man who is bout to die up in the sky. Yeats is sending a message about choices that people make and where they land them. The fighter pilot chose to fly for fun and he is headed to the grave. We are not being entertained in the poem given the intensity of the nessage.The man who is about to perish has already calculated in his mind and rationalized his death (line 16….in balance with this life, this death).

Comparing content and rhythm, Yeats seems to be putting equal emphasis on both rhythm and content. He arranges the words to pass on the content and reinforces this using well organized rhyme. He has beautiful quatrains taking the form ABAB (stanza 1….fate…above….hate…..love).

Concerning the involvement of the speaker, the poet is an observer. He has witnessed a close friend or someone he knows, a countryman, an Irishman like him, take this kind of adventure and he writes the poem as a tribute.Yeats, the poet is not directly involved in the war.

It is possible for the poem to be interpreted privately or personally whereby instead of someone talking of clouds as a sign of a fighter pilot high in the sky with a plane, one can talk about the meeting of God, believed to be in heaven (clouds) for judgement.A number of private interpretations are possible. But they cannot be as effective as what Yeats had in mind when he was writing the poem.

Concerning the speaker’s control over his or her expression, the poet has not used hyperbole or exaggerated in his arguments. The reason for this would be that given the seriousness of the situation, it is not necessary to exaggerate the statements. The mere reality of death makes the message heavy. The sentimentality in the poem does not make it lose anything. It in fact makes it achieve the required intensity. The usage of stylistic devices of figurative language such as the imagery in lines 14 and 15 (... a waste of breath) enable us to get the sad tone that the persona is in.

As argued earlier on, the persona is confronted with the possibility of death and the moment is tense. It is not the poet involved in the fighting using a plane but someone he is able to observe. This speaker/persona, has taken the choice without anyone forcing him, line 9…nor law nor duty bade me to fight).This means that there is no law or dutiful requirement that took him to the battle field

In this poem, the careful mind of Yeats emerges as he describes the predicament of someone he knows who is about to die in the sky as he flies a war plane. The tone, which is indifferent, makes the reader lose the weight of a heavy and tense moment, which emanates from the imminent death of the persona.

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