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Twentieth-Century Literature

Introduction to Literary Language Shaped by Cultural and Historical Contexts

William Butter Yeast, also known as W.B Yeats, or just Yeast, is a prominent figure in 20thcentury literature. Born and raised as Irish, Yeast was a pillar of not just the Irish literary establishment but was also a prominent force behind the Irish Literary Revival. My decision to choose Yeast for this essay lays in the relevance of his work and the times he lived through. Yeast lived through a time of great transformation in Ireland. We witnessed the Land War, the rise and fall of Charles Stewart Parnell. Throughout his lifetime, Ireland had experienced two great wars, one which was a war of independence, and another which was a civil war (Embassy of Ireland 2015). Although Yeast lived for a very long time in London, his works are often found to only be talking of Ireland such as he does in his The Lake Isle of Innisfree.

Choosing Yeast for this essay meant that choosing a poet who makes effective use of allusive imagery and symbolic structure, In essence, what drew me closer to Years was that he is a symbolist poet. The choice of words he has made in in writings not only provide particular meaning but also suggest abstract thought. Additionally, my choice to write about his poems; The Lake Isle of Innisfree, A Coat, and When You Are Old is primarily based on a desire to examine and highlight that massive transformation that Yeast had undergone throughout his life as a poet. I say this because his early poems drew heavily on Irish myth and folklore, however, his later works indicate a better sense of engagement in contemporary issues. His symbolistic style and aim to write about contemporary issues are seen combined in his poems such as A Coat. The historical, cultural, and personal settings of the three poems selected for this study differ from one another and so do the poems themselves. This indicates the evolving nature of Yeats as a poet and his growing taste interest in various stages of his life. The langue used in these poems is different depending on the aim of the poem, the era, and the influence the poet was under when writing each of these poems. This essay aims to study the literary language Yeats uses in The Lake Isle of Innisfree, When You Are Old, and A Coat and explain how it has been shaped its cultural and historical contexts. Additionally, the essay will breakdown the language used in these poems to indicate how the use of the language makes the poem impactful and meaningful.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Yeast wrote The Lake Isle of Innisfree in the 1880s in a time when Ireland was undergoing economic turmoil and his poet's family were had to face financial struggles. (Encylopedia 2019). Yeats uses the end rhyme scheme of abab in this poem and employs various alliteration and assonance to emphasize the mood and sound of the poem. Such as

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings (Poetry Foundation 2020)

Also, one may keenly notice the stress on the ‘l’ and ‘s’ sounds in the following lines from the poem:

I hear lake water lapping with the low sounds by the shore (Poetry Foundation 2020).

There is an emphasis on the ‘l’ and ‘s’ sounding words such as “lapping”, “low” and “shore”. Yeast was reminded by the lake Innisfree when he was living in London. This poem was inspired by his desire to return to a calmer, and slower way of life back in Ireland. A sense of nostalgia is seen in the concluding lines of the poem where he says:

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway or the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core (Poetry Foundation 2020)

The deliberate choice of words in these lines provides the reader with a sense of longing. In the last lines, he emphasizes that no matter where he is, he always carries Ireland and his hometown deep in his heart. Additionally, the primary feature of this poem is imagination, which suggests that it is a Romantic poem. The speaker imagines living in this place, he is daydreaming about another time, another life. Ireland was an agricultural country in the nineteenth century but the farms were extensively controlled by the British, but Yeast always longed to return to his free homeland, Ireland even though he had spent little time there.

A Coat

This poem written by Yeast is arguably symbolic of the futility of war. Yeast is known to have been a symbolic poet and his poems often make use of symbolic analogies that stray from their literal meaning. A Coat can be seen as an extended metaphor and can be seen as a 'coat of arms'. The metaphoric coat may also symbolize protection against all the harsh activities of the outside world.

In this poem, like in The Lake Isle of Innisfree, Yeats skillfully makes use of consonants. The repetition of consonant sounds in the end words such as “mythologies”, enterprise”, and “eyes” adds a rhythmic tone to the poem. (Baldwin 2020). The historical influence of the langue used in this poem is influenced by how his works were misappropriated, this is seen in the second section of the poem

But the fools caught it,

Wore it in the world’s eyes

As though they’d wrought it (Poetry Foundation 2020)

In this poem, Yeasts talks about how his writing process and refers to his work as a cat that is adorned, well looked after, and has embroideries. These 'embroideries’ can be referred to as the words, images, or style of his writing which adorns his writing. (Hervás n.d.). However, as the poem progressed to the last lines, the tone, and language of the poem changes and talks about how "the fools" also "wore" his coat, referring to other writers and contemporaries who copied and took advantage of him.

In the last lines, his tone changes again:

Song, let them take it

For there’s more enterprise

In walking naked (Poetry Foundation 2020)

Here, Yeast opts for taking the high ground and chooses to ignore the aforementioned “fools” because “there’s more enterprise/ In walking naked”.

When You Are Old

This poem by Yeasts was published in his second collection of poems, The Rose (Scrubly n.d.). The poem is believed to be based on Yeats' relationship with a political activist, Maud Gonne. Gonne was known to have relationships with right-wing politicians and never really fully committed to Yeats even after retaining his affection for years.

Yeats makes use of syndetic listing in lines such as “old and grey and full of sleep” to create long and drawn-out imagery which gives the reader the impression that the subject of this poem has had a long life. He uses the word 'sleep' as a symbol of death. Additionally, the use of ‘s’ sounds in the line “soft look your eyes once had/ shadows” creates a sense of softness which can be associated both with the sleepiness of the subject as well as the sot and meting heart or the tenderness with which they reflect on their past.

The use of the lines:

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face (Poetry Foundation 2020)

Sheds focus the chiasmus "love false or true" as, typically, one often only heard the phrase 'true or false'. Here, Yeats employs inverted syntax on purpose to how others who have loved or admired this woman were false in their love whereas what he has felt for her was true and came from an honest place in his heart. The attitude of the poem is detected in such use of language where Yeats attempts to deliver a message that true and heartfelt love should not be rejected but rather acknowledged and/or reciprocated.

Conclusion on Literary Language Shaped by Cultural and Historical Contexts

From the above analysis, one may conclude that Yeats was a poet largely influenced by events going on in his life and his immediate surroundings. His writings make extensive use of imagery and metaphors to convey a deeper meaning which is seen throughout the three poems analyzed in this essay. While The Lake Isle of Innisfree is dedicated to his love for his hometown back in Ireland, his When You Are Old is dedicated to his love for a woman. In both cases, the has been unsuccessful in attaining his love. He longed for his hometown while he was in London writing The Lake Isle of Innisfree and he longed for reciprocated love when he wrote When You Are Old. In A Coat, he writes about his poetry and how others steal his ideas and works. The language he uses is skillfully designed to create a tine for each poem.

References for Literary Language Shaped by Cultural and Historical Contexts

Yeats, William. The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Poetry Foundation. 2020. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43281/the-lake-isle-of-innisfree

Yeats, William. When You are Old. Poetry Foundation. 2020. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43283/when-you-are-old%E2%80%9C

Yeats, William. A Coat. Poetry Foundation. 2020. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/12893/a-coat 

Scrubbly. When You Are Old – WB Yeats Poem Analysis. Jun 16. https://medium.com/@scrbblyblog/when-you-are-old-wb-yeats-poem-analysis-32cde6f40874#:~:text=This%20is%20a%20bit%20of,future%20without%20him%20might%20be.

Hervás, MªJosé. A Coat, by William Butler Yeats – Modernism and poetry. http://mural.uv.es/majorher/poesiainglesa/yeats 

Baldwin, Emma. A Coat by William Butler Yeats.2020. https://poemanalysis.com/william-butler-yeats/a-coat/#:~:text='A%20Coat'%20by%20William%20Butler%20Yeats%20describes%20the%20poet's%20own,great%20deal%20of%20time%20on.

Mulhall, Daniel. 'W.B. Yeats and the Ireland of his time', a talk delivered at the Oxford Literary Festival. 2015. https://www.dfa.ie/irish-embassy/great-britain/news-and-events/2015/wb-yeats-and-the-ireland-of-his-time/ .

Encylopedia. The Lake Isle Of Innisfree. Sep31, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/lake-isle-innisfree#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20Lake%20Isle%20of%20Innisfree%E2%80%9D%20uses%20%E2%80%9Calliteration%E2%80%9D%20and,and%20mood%20of%20the%20poem.&text=%E2%80%9CI%20will%20arise%20and%20go,phrases%20in%20the%20poem%20together. 

Remember, at the center of any academic work, lies clarity and evidence. Should you need further assistance, do look up to our English Assignment Help

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