Term Paper: Yeats Justification of Contemporary Irish

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[. . .] This resonance with Arthurian myth may be yet another reason the early Years is held an inferior poet to the later Yeats. The lack of humor and solemnity of "Oisin" may be another reason as well. Perhaps, Yeats wished to take the accepted literary and dramatic persona of Irish individuals, as depicted in England, out of the realm of humor, where they were often relegated to in drama, and create a self-consciously worthy history and mythological relevance of the Irish self and the collective spirit. If this impulse can occasionally seem sterile while reading the poems, its nobility in spirit cannot be denied, either.

Also, Yeats creativity, despite his resonance with Arthurian myth, as a poet in creating a mythological structure cannot be denied. Throughout the poem, Yeats alternates the use of ancient figures common to all of Irish mythology with that of Maeve and St. Patrick with others whom he creates out of whole cloth. Stylistically, while creating these different characters and incidents, he assigns certain characters and places heroic 'handles' or epithets that attach to them throughout, such as "Gabhra's raven-covered plain." This creates an epic texture for the poem as well as creates a sense of all of Ireland as filled with mythological elements of significance and relevance.

Moreover, this epic and heroic past existed even before that of the hero's own birth and exploits.

Before God was or my old line began;

Wars shadowy, vast, exultant; faeries of old

Who wedded men with rings of Druid gold;

And how those lovers never turn their eyes

Upon the life that fades and flickers and dies,

Yet love and kiss on dim shores far away ("The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems," Part II)

The poem thus is elegiac in tone, not simply in its overall structure of dialogue between pagan and Christian, old and new, but even in the recollected past of Oisin's wanderings, characters constantly muse over the better past, such as Oisin's beloved who sighs.

There was no mightier soul of Heber's line;

Now it is old and mouse-like. For a sign

I burst the chain: still earless, nerveless, blind,

Wrapped in the things of the unhuman mind,

In some dim memory or ancient mood,

Still earless, nerveless, blind, the eagles stood.

References in Oisin's own recollections constantly refer to a yet older time, where monsters and humans walked the earth: 'Manannan', "that sea-god's name." (("The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems," Part II). All of these references to characters, incidents, and qualities of the past contribute to the continual sense of loss in "Oisin" as a poem. These themes continually are stressed -- the loss of the hero's place in Ireland, the loss of an Irish past, and the loss of a beloved woman -- and all create even in a national epic of heroism a sense of displacement and sorrow, a mythology of continual grasping for what cannot be recreated, rather than a national epic of fulfillment and reclamation.

Although Yeats attempted to create a sense of Irish continuity with the past that has been critiqued since as incorporating too much of the Pre-Raphelite and Arthurian into its structure, perhaps the poet should also be credited for some elements of modernism, even in his creative reconstruction of Irish folklore. Even "The Wanderings of Oisin" have a sense of displacement, loss and sorrow that would come to the forefront in Yeats' modernist works and the literary works of other modernists. Although there may be much to be criticized stylistically in the humorless and occasionally over-ambitious creation of a mythology for contemporary Ireland fused with the tales of the past, seeds of the later Yeats work can be seen as Oisin mourns, not his success as a hero, but how things fall apart, and how the center cannot hold even as desperately as the Christian tropes of St. Patrick try to hold them together.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Yeats. 1970.

Yeats, W.B. "The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems." 1886. Last updated March 24, 2003. Retrieved on April 1, 2004 at http://www.web-books.com/Classics/Poetry/Yeats/Drama/Wanderings1.htm

Yeats." Columbia Encyclopedia. 2001. Sixth Edition. Retrieved on April 1, http://www.bartleby.com/65/ye/Yeats-Wi.html2004 at [END OF PREVIEW]

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