“To Ireland in the Coming Times” by William Butler Yeats

Know, that I would accounted be
True brother of a company
That sang, to sweeten Ireland’s wrong,
Ballad and story, rann and song;
Nor be I any less of them,
Because the red-rose-bordered hem
Of her, whose history began
Before God made the angelic clan,
Trails all about the written page.
When Time began to rant and rage
The measure of her flying feet
Made Ireland’s heart begin to beat;
And Time bade all his candles flare
To light a measure here and there;
And may the thoughts of Ireland brood
Upon a measured quietude.

Nor may I less be counted one
With Davis, Mangan, Ferguson,
Because, to him who ponders well,
My rhymes more than their rhyming tell
Of things discovered in the deep,
Where only body’s laid asleep.
For the elemental creatures go
About my table to and fro,
That hurry from unmeasured mind
To rant and rage in flood and wind;
Yet he who treads in measured ways
May surely barter gaze for gaze.
Man ever journeys on with them
After the red-rose-bordered hem.
Ah, faeries, dancing under the moon,
A Druid land, a Druid tune!

While still I may, I write for you
The love I lived, the dream I knew.
From our birthday, until we die,
Is but the winking of an eye;
And we, our singing and our love,
What measurer Time has lit above,
And all benighted things that go
About my table to and fro,
Are passing on to where may be,
In truth’s consuming ecstasy,
No place for love and dream at all;
For God goes by with white footfall.
I cast my heart into my rhymes,
That you, in the dim coming times,
May know how my heart went with them
After the red-rose-bordered hem.

This is one of Yeats’ Irish nationalist poems, where he envisions an Ireland free from English rule. He aligns himself with three other Irish nationalist poets: Thomas Osborne Davis, James Clarence Mangan, and Sir Samuel Ferguson. Yeats believes that Irish poetry and art, which extol Irish heritage (symbolized by faeries and Druids), will inspire the Irish people and usher in the Irish Renaissance.

A metaphor which is repeated in each stanza is the “red-rose-bordered hem.” I thought about this image quite a bit, trying to figure out what exactly Yeats was trying to represent here. My thought is that Yeats was making a reference to Lady Liberty, as expressed in Delacroix’s famous revolutionary painting (see below). The implication here is that the hem of Liberty’s dress may have to get stained with the blood of revolutionaries before Ireland can become a free nation. The sad truth is that revolutions are rarely bloodless.

Eugène Delacroix

While I personally prefer Yeats’ mystical poetry, I can appreciate his nationalistic works as well. Artistic expression is almost always influenced to some extent by the socio-political climate at the time the artist is working. I confess, I am curious to see what works of art arise from our current social and political climate.

Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to share any thoughts in the comment section below.

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under Literature

8 responses to ““To Ireland in the Coming Times” by William Butler Yeats

  1. E

    A beautiful poem by Yeats, Jeff. I agree that your interpretation of the red rose border refers to the bloodshed of war but it makes me curious to revisit the symbolism in Ireland. I got to visit and study in Southern Ireland in college (I worked multiple shifts at a pizza place and literally rolled change to afford the trip; a mini semester studying The Great Hunger-so amazing) While there I saw a large rose garden that was kind of a big deal in Tralee. They had a Rose of Tralee pageant. Off to research!

    • Great comment, E! I think that you are right, that there may may be some other associations with the rose symbol in addition to the obvious one. Yeats is so complex. For more you read and the more you reflect, the richer his work becomes. I look forward to hearing about what you discover. Have an awesome day!

  2. Having associated Yeats with talk of a beast slouching to Jerusalem, I’m surprised by what I read in your essay and in this talk:
    https://www.dfa.ie/irish-embassy/great-britain/news-and-events/2015/wb-yeats-and-the-ireland-of-his-time

  3. Pingback: “To Ireland in the Coming Times” by William Butler Yeats – lampmagician

  4. I was thinking that the red-rose-bordered-hem had something to do with bloodshed, but I’m not good at understanding poetry. Interpreting poetry can be hard, but I think you get it right!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s