04 Yeats – September 1913

Report
September 1913
W.B. Yeats
Published in ‘Responsibilities’ (1914)
AO4 Historical Context 1
Yeats wrote several poems in response to the
public controversy stirred by Sir Hugh Lane's
offer of his collection of paintings to the city of
Dublin and the Dublin Lock-out of 1913-14.
Of these ‘September 1913’ is the best known
and the most significant.
Sir Hugh Lane was a friend of Yeats’s and
related to Lady Gregory, one of his patrons.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
Les Parapluies,
1883.
AO4 Historical Context 2
The Dublin Lock-out was a major industrial dispute between
approximately 20,000 workers and 300 employers which took
place in Ireland's capital city. The dispute lasted from 26 August
1913 to 18 January 1914, and is often viewed as the most severe
and significant industrial dispute in Irish history. Central to the
dispute was the workers' right to unionise.
Q. What do these
notes suggest
about the likely
tone of the
poem?
One of the major factors which contributed to the ignition of the
dispute was the dire circumstances in which the city's poor lived. In
1913, one third of Dublin's population lived in slums. The infant
mortality rate amongst the poor was 142 per 1000 births (in 2005
it was 6 per 1000). The situation was made worse by the high rate
of disease in the slums, which was the result of a lack of health
care and cramped living conditions. The most prevalent disease
was tuberculosis (TB), which spread through tenements quickly
and caused many deaths. A report published in 1912 claimed that
TB-related deaths in Ireland were 50% higher than in England or
Scotland, and the vast majority of TB-related deaths in Ireland
occurred amongst the poor.
Source; Wikipedia.
AO4 - Literary context
John O’Leary (more on him later) introduced Yeats to political
ballads and songs Typically they contained intense emotion and
patriotic feeling, if not rather lacklustre rhymes!
For example, ‘The Wearing of the Green’:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9_C3bKnXAA
In a letter to his friend Lady Dorothy Wellesley during the period
when Yeats was writing the ballads of Last Poems (1938) at the
end of his life Yeats insisted that rhyme was crucial to capturing
the authentic:
Q. Bearing in mind what you
already know about the
political background to this
poem, can you make a
prediction about how Yeats
might use or adapt this
traditional form?
‘folk lilt of the Irish accent…Look through any old book of ballads
and you will find that they have all perfectly regular rhyme
schemes…Regular rhyme is needed in this kind of work…The
swing of the sentence makes the reader expect it…The
fundamental sing-song.’
Letters on Poetry from W.B. Yeats to Lady Dorothy Wellesley
(1964)
September 1913
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.
John O’Leary (1830-1907)
John O'Leary converted Yeats to the cause of Irish cultural
nationalism and was, in fact, responsible for Yeats
becoming an ‘Irish’ writer. A man of great moral
rectitude, a vehement patriot and active Fenian, he
suffered long years of prison and exile in behalf of an
ideal, if somewhat imaginary, Ireland. To Yeats, he
seemed the embodiment of the romantic conception of
Ireland and of Irish nationalism. O'Leary recommended to
Yeats the writings of the Young Irelanders (rebels from
the mid-19th century), maintaining that the nature and
intensity of the feeling they had inspired had been of
great political value. However, he never claimed that they
were noteworthy for quality. In fact, despite his stress on
the importance of a nationalistic purpose to aspiring Irish
writers, O'Leary insisted that poetics should never be
sacrificed to politics, nor aesthetics to argument. In his
essay ‘Poetry and Tradition’ (1907) Yeats recalls O'Leary
insisting that a ‘writer must not write badly, or ignore the
examples of the great Masters in the fancied or real
service of a cause, ... [just as] he must not lie for it or
grow hysterical". Hoping to promote an Irish literature of
the greatest kind, he supported Yeats in his refusal to
praise second-rate literature in order to strengthen the
cause of Irish nationalism. Thus Yeats associated O'Leary
not only with Irish cultural nationalism but with an
insistence on the highest standards of artistic excellence.
Yeats had faith that O'Leary, like himself, would have
recognized the intrinsic quality of the Lane Collection and
deplored the nationalism which led to its loss.
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.
Irish aristocrat and revolutionary.
He was the fifth son of the 1st
Duke of Leinster. He died of
wounds received in resisting arrest
on charge of treason following the
1798 rebellion.
Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763 – 1798)
Irish nationalist and Republican and rebel
leader born in Dublin, he led an abortive
rebellion against British rule in 1803 and was
captured, tried and executed by hanging,
drawing and quartering for high treason. His
last recorded words were made in a now
famous speech on the eve of his execution:
‘Let no man write my epitaph; for as no man who
knows my motives dare now vindicate them, let
not prejudice or ignorance, asperse them. Let them
and me rest in obscurity and peace, and my tomb
remain uninscribed, and my memory in oblivion,
until other times and other men can do justice to
my character. When my country takes her place
among the nations of the earth, then and not till
then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.’
Robert Emmet (1778-1803)
Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763 – 1798), was a
leading Irish revolutionary figure and one of
the founding members of the United Irishmen
and is regarded as the father of Irish
Republicanism. He was captured by British
forces in Donegal and taken prisoner following
the 1798 rebellion. Before he was to be
executed, Wolfe Tone attempted suicide and
subsequently died from his wounds
Q. What do the biographies of the ‘Romantic’ Irish patriots mentioned in the poem add
to our understanding of the poem?
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
Q. Close textual analysis: FORM – STRUCTURE – LANGUAGE.
What was the ‘form’ of ‘The Stolen Child’? What ‘form’ does this poem take? How
might it be significant?
Work out the rhythm, metre and rhyme scheme – make a note of the structure of the
poem. How does the structure help shape our response?
Look at Yeats’s use of language. How do the various techniques help shape our
response to the poem?
What connections can you make between the poems you’ve studied so far?
Which Yeats? Find evidence for each…
• The socialist, publically disillusioned with Irish
bourgeois values – bitter and satirical
• Reflects personal disappointment with Maud Gonne
• Rejection of the Celtic Twilight – linguistic corruption of
traditional forms
• The ‘turning point in Yeats’ career’ (Greening) where
he abandons old mythologies and takes up new ones.
WHICH INTERPRETATION DO YOU MOST AGREE WITH
AND WHY?
Connections – Still in a Celtic Twilight?
• If ‘The Stolen Child’
looked into Ireland’s
magical past what does
‘September 1913’
directly refer to? To what
extent does ‘September
1913’ echo ‘the cry of
the heart against
necessity’ - a poem
about ‘longing and
complaint’?
Plenary – drawing it together
• Discuss the quotations and accompanying
questions on the first side of the sheet with a
partner.
• Independently, write a short paragraph in
response to the quotes on the back of the
sheet.

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