A Review of “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”

“In Memory of W.B. Yeats” is an elegiac poem. Traditionally, elegiac poems deal with the memory of the death and his after-life. However, W.H. Auden adds another dimension to it. In addition to lauding the poetic after-life of Yeats’, he placed his poem in the present. At the time when Auden wrote "In Memory of W. B. Yeats", an impending catastrophe, World War II was waiting Europe. The sense of oppression is present throughout the poem.

Each of the three parts of the poem represents a specific stage of the poet’s life. The first part illustrates Yeats’ death; the second part gives an overview of Yeats’ early life and the third part speaks highly of Yeats and discusses the inspiration Auden drew from him.

The first part consists of five stanzas. Though the form is not consistent, the content embraces emotions tightly: the first stanza is on the death and coldness, the second on the contrast between life and death, the third on the Yeats’ sufferings before death, and fourth on the physical death and spiritual immortality, and the fifth on the Auden’s concern about the times. The first stanza impresses readers with “death” and “cold”. In the first line, “disappeared” is an euphemism for “died” and at the same time forms alliteration with “dead”, “deserted”, “disfigured”, “dying”, “day”, “death”, “dark” and “day”, all of which give readers a sense of death and bleakness. In the last line, it seems that the nature coincidentally pities the death of Yeats’—“a dark cold day”. Nonetheless, the second stanza contrasts with the first stanza. Nature doesn’t seem to be concerned about Yeats’ death. “The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests” and “the peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays”. The indifference of nature sets off the attachment of people (introduced here by the synecdoche “mourning tongues”) towards Yeats. Though the poet died, people seek comfort from his poems. Even if Yeats can live forever, his poems, separated from his death by “mourning tongues”, can “live” eternally. The third stanza stands out with its geographical terms, which are undertones of the war. On the one hand, describing the dying of Yeats with geographical terms reminds reader that poems present rather than describe. On the other hand, the geographical terms and the images of a city imply the fall of Barcelona, which happened not long before. Yeats and his poems continue to live on in people’s mind。 That’s why “he became his admirers”. And in this way they become the one. The fourth stanza informs readers that different people can have different interpretation of Yeats’ poems.  Although he has died, Yeats still lives on in our feelings and emotions. The last stanza extends to the future. The rich (Bourse is a symbol of the rich) and the poor go on to live in their own worlds. The meanings of Yeats’ poems will be forgotten or lost due to the reason that only a few thousand people will consider the day of Yeats’ death as “slightly unusual”, which is an understatement. The last two lines is the repetition of the last two lines of the first stanza, which gives emphasis to the grief and pity people feel for Yeats’ death.  

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As for the second part, it summarizes the transition period of Yeats and digs deep into the nature of poetry. The form of the poem becomes more unified. The metrical form is iambic hexameter and the rhyming scheme is more regular, which indicates Yeats’ poetic techniques are growing more refined. This stanza reveals to the readers the reasons for which Yeats wrote poems and arouses readers’ sympathy for them. The conflicts between Ireland and England placed Yeats in a miserable situation, which forced him to write poetry. Nevertheless, no matter how beautiful his poems are, they are useless, from Auden’s ...

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