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Analysis of "An Irish Airman foresees his Death" by W.B. Yeats

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Analysis of "An Irish Airman foresees his Death" by W.B. Yeats This particular poem - "An Irish Airman foresees his Death" - was composed by Yeats for his close friend Lady Augusta Gregory. The poem was written in honor of her son, Major Robert Gregory, who served in the air forces during the First World War. The poem is written as a narrative, from the 'Irish Airman's' perspective, documenting his final thoughts. The title of the poem gives the reader an immediate idea of the subject and content; we know straight away that the poem is about 'An Irish Airman' contemplating his impending death. Yeats uses no elaborate language or ideas to convey the message, and the first two lines bring us straight to the heart of the subject; the airman is facing death - 'I know that I shall meet my fate/Somewhere among the clouds above'. He is fully aware of his 'fate' (this is emphasized by the use of the words 'I know'), yet rather than being scared by the thought, his feelings seem to be of resignation. ...read more.


I have researched the Gregory's and it seems they were certainly not poor!) The lines: 'No likely end could bring them loss/Or leave them happier than before', could relate to two things, although fundamentally the key idea is the insignificance of life. One could interpret 'them' as the entire nation, in which case we are dealing with the airman's insignificance in the War as a whole - his death, or even survival, would have no great effect in altering the course of the War. Another possible interpretation is that 'them' simply means his 'countrymen', in which case he is referring to the impact his death (or survival) would have on the lives of those around him. Is his death going to invoke feelings of loss, and would his survival make them any happier? This is a question that, I believe, soldier or not, every human being will ask themselves at some point in their lives. In the grand scheme of things, what impression do we make on the lives of those around us; how important are we really? The penultimate section of the poem details why the airman chose to fight in the first place: 'No law, nor duty bade me fight/No public men, nor cheering crowds'. ...read more.


Many of the young soldiers enlisted straight from school, and as a result they knew nothing but war. Unlike the older soldiers, they had no real ties to their previous lives (such as wives or steady jobs), which must have created feelings much like those which Yeats expresses in this poem. The final line, 'In balance with this life, this death', draws the entire poem together, and at the same time, everything we have read seems to fade into insignificance when we are faced with the idea of 'this life, this death'. The poem's is simple in structure; it is 16 lines long and consists of one stanza only. In addition, the language Yeats uses is not overly complex, and presents the reader with no great challenge in understanding. This use of basic format and wording means that the reader's attention is focused solely on the content and subject of the poem; the simplicity reflects the simplicity of the matter at hand: death. In conclusion, I believe that "An Irish Airman foresees his Death" is extremely successful in portraying the feelings a soldier would have when facing death, as well as honoring Major Gregory's life. Yasmin Gillett ...read more.

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