How does Yeats present death in “The Man and the Echo”?
The “Man and the Echo”, written in 1938 just months before Yeats’s death, is a poem heavily associated with regret, philosophy, and death. The dominating theme of the poem seems to be death, and Yeats uses a variety of techniques to portray his thoughts and feelings about it.
The poem begins with the image that Yeats is trapped in an isolated cave, and the effect this creates is that it reflects “Man’s” effort to control the consequences of his voice. The fact that Yeats goes to a bottom of a put to get away from the world could suggest that he is ridden with guilt and regret, and is preparing himself for death. Evidence for this guilt is that he rhetorically asks whether “that play of mine send out men the English shot” or “Did words of mine put too great strain on that woman’s reeling brain”(referring to Margo Collins). Man questions the effect of his written work on readers and is plagued with guilt for events his work potentially caused. He worries that his words caused negative action, such as inspiring men to go to war, and failed to cause positive action, such as stopping a house from being “wrecked.” His unanswered questions, however, reflect the impossibility of knowing the actual effect of his words.
He is haunted by a sense of unknowing about questions of life, philosophy and his own past – as he can “never get the answers right.” The fact that Yeats lies awake “night after night” shows the guilt he is facing and maybe even insomnia to the point where “and all seems evil until I sleepless would lie down and die”. This statement is very ambiguous- is Yeats trying to say that he feels death would be the only thing that would release him from the suffering of regret and guilt-escapism, or does he mean that death would put an end to the evil that is supposedly being caused by his writing.