p.p1 explorations of the tensions between youth Vs age

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Throughout Yeats’ poetry, he documents his own personal experiences to serve as visionary explorations of the tensions between youth Vs age and stability Vs unrest. In The Second Coming, he reflects the current events occurring in Ireland such as Easter 1916 and World War One. As he comes to terms with the horrific experiences of the war, he worries what the future will look like for his country ruled by monarch leaders. In Among School Children, he reflects on the comparisons between the youthful age and the old age, like himself.

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In the face of World War One, Yeats responds to these events in The Second Coming with a fear that his nation is going into a period of chaos and “mere anarchy.” Yeats wrote this poem in 1919, foretelling what is presently happening and predicting the rise of a ‘rough beast’ that manifested as chaos and upheaval in the form of Nazism and Fascism, bringing Europe to its knees. All he sees is destruction and negative people in control causing a negative future of a once united nation. Yeats lived through these tough times that Ireland went through such as the unprecedented slaughter of several Irish Nationalists in the struggle for freedom in World War One. This poem suggests that world affairs and spirituality undergo transformation from time to time. Human kind has to experience darkness before the light can stream in again through the cracks. The violent and terrifying imagery of “Turning and turning in the widening gyre” foreshadows constant movement and chaos as the world is out of control and the idea of the falcon’s action as it flies away from the falconer and after to evolve into a very different creature. The confronting ritualistic language of “Things fall apart” and “the centre cannot hold” indicates that the systems are collapsing with the new authority leaders and the country is in strife. The centre has no finite boundaries, but chaos has no limits indicating its infinite destructive potentials. People are acting like animals and need trainers with integrity rather than an authority figure seen through “The falcon cannot hear the falconer.” The violent bird of prey disrupts the peace and quiet and therefore the peacefulness has been threatened. It knows no control and violence is unleashed. The animal imagery demonstrates how their peacefulness has been threatened and there is no longer stability within the nation, but destructiveness. The nation lacks order and everything is being disrupted. Yeats describes the conditions present in the world at that time in the first stanza, but by the second stanza he moves onto the monstrous Second Coming that is about to take place as the ‘rough beast’ “Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born”, the birth place of Jesus Christ. There is uncertainty of the nation’s future and a lack of capacity for insight and compassion of the New Age. The current leaders ‘lack all conviction”, “while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity”, resulting in almost no evidence of adequate leadership. The authority leaders in the New Age will have no graciousness and sensitivity for the nation, especially the less fortunate, and will lead in harsh, heartless ways. As Yeats watches all of this happening around him he fears for the country’s future and yearns for the past when things were peaceful and there was stability within the country. The repetition of “surely” in the quote “Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand” accentuates his longing for the old assurance to exist when the country had stability, rather than total destruction. Yeats makes a biblical reference to the Second Coming in Revelation, the return of Jesus Christ and the harsh, violent judgement by a ‘rough beast’ who will have no sensitivity for anyone. The ‘rough beast’ about to born could take the form of a government, a tyrant, or a regime. Spiritual refreshment can only be achieved through the Second Coming. Yeats desperately hopes that the Second Coming will bring peace and stability to the Irish nation and restore them to their once peaceful, stable nation. This new civilisation will be one that rejects what previous generations celebrated, as well as celebrating what previous generations rejected. 

Yeats wrote Among School Children in 1927 when he was a part of a working party in education. In this poem, he carries out one of his duties, as a sixty-year old Senator of the Irish Parliament, by visiting and inspecting a progressive convent school in Waterford, Ireland. He begins in first person as he “walks through the long school room questioning” whether the lessons they are being taught are really relevant to life and contrasts between ” A kind old nun” walking along with him “in a white hood” providing answers to his questions and “the best modern way”. Yeats observes the girls, ages 4-7 “learning to cipher and to sing, / To study reading-books and histories, / To cut and sew, be neat in everything”. The constant sibilance foreshadows tension that these lessons being taught to them are ultimately unimportant and that life’s true lessons don’t come from the classroom, reinforced by his sarcastic tone of “best modern way” and Yeats’ bemusement that children gaze with surprise in their eyes at a “sixty-year-old smiling public man” in “momentary wonder”. As he stares at these girls, he loses focus and is thrust back into the past where he recalls Maud Gonne, his lover, who was once graceful and beautiful like a “Ledaean body” has now grown old just as the poet has. He thinks back to those youthful days when they would have intimate talks and he remembers her fraught description of a “trivial event / That changed some childish day to tragedy”. Through this talk, the two had united and the two had become one, though still keeping their separate identities like “the yolk and white of the one shell”. By comparing Maud Gonne’s current appearance to her appearance in youth, Yeats realises time’s toll on the physical being. He realises the fleeting nature of life and begins to question his legacy and accomplishments. After finally understanding the mortal implications of humanity, Yeats searches for any possible way to subvert his certain death. As Yeats discovered from his assessment of the great ancient thinkers, there is no way to separate “the dancer from the dance.” He learns that one cannot divide life into “the leaf, the blossom, or the bole,” analysing each individual part. Instead, one must view life with a “brightening glance,” seeing the beauty in its entirety. Through this intense examination, Yeats comes to terms with himself, realising the necessity of a peaceful, self-honest existence.

Yeats transitions from the past back into the classroom of the school. He “looks upon one child or t’other” and “wonders if she stood so at that age”. Envisioning that these innocent children will someday have to realise that their perfection will eventually be corrupted, Yeats has a “fit of grief or rage” as he imagines the rape of Leda by Zeus, turning a “childish day to tragedy.” Leda’s body “bent/ Above a sinking fire” is symbolic of her diminishing youthful spirit. All things spoil over time and the world has many faults. This memory of Maud drives his heart so ‘wild’ that she appears to “stand before me as a living child” in a dream-like state. Yeats compares “her present image” to ‘Quattrocento’, an Italian Renaissance sculptor, suggesting Maud has “hollow of cheek” and “a mess of shadows” on her discoloured and aged skin. Yeats realises that it is “Better to smile on all that smile” and to show that he can bear the process of ageing without complaint. The scarecrow imagery describes the old age as “a tattered Coa upon a stick.” By investigating the great men of the past such as Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras, he comes to the conclusion that although man can produce lasting works, they themselves can never be lasting. 

Through Yeats’ poetry, he reveals the realities and tensions of his life experiences such as uncertainty, ageing, youth, order and chaos. Through these life experience when he is faced with uncertainty and death, he discovers things about himself as a youth and as a sixty year old man. He attempts to provide answers to existential questioning and the value of life. By comparing youth to age, Yeats establishes a dichotomy between the youthfulness of schoolchildren and his own aged self. He finally realises that death is an inevitable part of life and that one cannot separate life from death. These poem serve as an example of Yeats continuous discovery to make sense of life’s purpose in periods of loss where life’s values are questioned. 

Key features of The Second Coming:

reflection upon the chaos following WWI and Easter 1916
Yeats longs for the past when things were stable and peaceful 
Biblical reference to the ‘rough beast’ in Revelation 
Inadequate leadership in Ireland (post WWI, showing no graciousness esp to less fortunate) 
Hopes Second Coming will be the solution 
His poems are a reflection of his life experiences, e.g. witness of his country, Ireland, being torn a part  

Key features of Among School Children:

Reflection upon his visit to a girls school 
Remembers the conversation between him and Maud 
Observes that girls were still naively innocent  
Most important life lessons are not learnt within the classroom walls 
Older man reflecting upon the younger man and times toll 
Compares Maud’s youthful self to her old craggy self now to realise how fast time moves 
Although man can produce lasting works, they themselves can never be lasting
Use of sibilance 
Imagery Flashbacks