W. B. Yeats – ‘Broken Dreams’

“I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of broken dreams

That song has no relevance to this poem, it just always plays in my mind when I look at it

Enough Green Day, back to Yeats’ poem ‘Broken Dreams’ – it was written in 1917 when he was 52 years of age, this was just after his last proposal to Maud Gonne. Yeats explores the themes of time, ageing and afterlife in this poem and their effects of his unrequited love (most probably for  Gonne considering the poem’s historical context). He does this by exploring the loveliness and perfection of his beloved, and also presents the drama of ageing and its sense of frailty.

As we already know from previous Yeats’ poem analysis, his feelings too many forms in his writing. Throughout his poetry, Maud Gonne transforms into almost like a ‘myth’, and in this particular poem, she is his Helen of Troy as he discusses her perfections as well as the perfections of her imperfections.

The poem takes the reader on a journey through the series of images and ideas of Maud Gonne, being the past, present, her being idealised, transient and “nothing but a memory”. The title ‘Broken Dreams’ instantly sets the focus of the poem of Yeats’ dreams of being with Maud Gonne that are now broken. Because of this reason, it would have thought Yeats may use a number of ‘broken’ stanzas for this poem, but instead it includes one long stanza, giving it a sense of being like a monologue. However, the varying of line length illustrates the shift of Yeats’ unplanned feelings and also the focus, giving it a modern, casual feel. Enjambment is also used in this poem to fortify this idea, creating a fast paced recollection of memories. It is particularly prominent when he is recalling Gonne in her youth, “and with the fervour of my youthful eyes”, and how beautiful she was. Yeats also uses monosyllables throughout ‘Broken Dreams’ to ponder over this wonder of true beauty.

The poem begins following a tight rhyme scheme, “passing”;”blessing”, and becomes more ranged and distant as the poem goes on, in the final few lines however, Yeats brings the structure back together as he recognises what love is.

Yeats creates a similarity of his poem to the Shakespeare sonnet ’18’ as he opens with an unflattering truth “There is grey in your hair”, this gives himself the ability to flatter later on in the poem as he shows her beauty has been withered with time, creating the poem’s overall image of ageing and the decaying of natural beauty with the help of somewhat prosaic language, “Young men no longer catch their breath when you are passing”. Yeats then creates a conversational tone, referring himself to an “old gaffer”, this makes it look more like a personal, casual thought.

Maud Gonne is almost described as being supernatural, “it was your prayer recovered him upon the bed of death”, giving her the idea of being saint-like and a miracle worker. But, again Yeats’ follows this by dwelling on how beauty fades and dies “Your beauty can but leave among us”. Yeats is infatuated by the physical beauty she once had and now that age has withered this, he’s not able to love her in the same way he once did. Consequentially, all he can do is search for “nothing but memories” and to look forward to the death and the afterlife, being reunited with her former-self, for death releases the physical constraints of age; “But in the grave all, all, shall be renewed”. To me, this gives the idea of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

“You are more beautiful than any one/ And yet your body had a flaw / Your small hands were not beautiful”, again, shows Yeats addressing Gonne’s faults.This fault is the only thing that separates her from the angels, perhaps making her even more desirable as this human-like flaw makes her beauty transient and more precious. Adding to the idea of Yeats’ suggestion of her imperfections being a perfection in their own way, “leave unchanged the hands that I have kissed”. This shows a more mature side to Yeats’ as he is being more realistic, rather than describing Gonne as ‘flawless’.

Within the final lines, Yeats reminds us of love and beauty’s vulnerability. “From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged”, this repetition creates the sense of dying and Yeats’ own frustration. Yeats becomes insubstantial to words “in rambling talk with an image of air”, compared to the more imagined reality of the real human love. To end the poem, Yeats repeats a previous line, “Vague memories, nothing but memories” which surprisingly has no rhetorical question (a typical Yeats trait), but instead this inadequate of Yeats represents the mind to the reality of marvellous, physical beauty and leaves the reader with a poet and his broken dreams.

This poem can be compared to others of Yeats’ work involving an elegic tone. For example, his unfulfilled yearning in poems such as ‘The Cold Heaven’ may reflect his torment over his beloved. We can also see Maud as another symbol like in ‘The Fisherman’ and ‘An Irish Airman Forsees his Death’ of being a ‘romantic individual’ as she has her own mind and stands for independence when she ‘rejects’ Yeats.

Leda and the Swan

– Leda and the Swan was first published by Yeats in American magazine ‘The Dial’ in 1924. Yeats retells the story from Greek mythology of the rape of Leda, the daughter of a king named Thestius, by Zeus, god of sky and thunder, who had assumed the form of a swan. In many versions of the story, Zeus merely seduces Leda. This is definitely not the case in Yeats’s graphic version. After the rape, Leda gets pregnant and gives birth to Helen of Troy. According to the story, Helen was hatched from an egg that later leads to the destruction of Troy and the subsequent strengthening of Greece. Yeats talks about Zeus using his powers for evil. – 

Similarly to his other poems, Yeats uses Greek Mythology references to explain his own thoughts at the time, in this case he relates the ‘making of Ireland’ to the Leda and the Swan myth as it was said to have been the ‘making of Greece’. In this poem, Yeats tries to put across the idea of evil breeding evil; the overall permeating result of this rape of Leda is destruction and death. It could be interpreted that Yeats also uses this myth as a representation of the Irish being metaphorically ‘raped’ by the English, and this too resulting in destruction and death. The idea of Zeus using his power for evil could also symbolise the Catholics in ‘September 1913’ as they are described as abusing their power, “greasy till”.

The poem favours the traditional form of the Petrarchan sonnet in iambic pentameter following an abab cdcd efg efg rhyme scheme. This use of half rhyme throughout the poem could suggest that something is ‘unfinished’. The fact the poem is composed like a sonnet is a paradox in itself as the subject of the poem is highly ‘untraditional’, the violent events are in stark contrast to the usual subject discussed in sonnets: love. However, this Petrarchan structure gives a clear separation between the first eight lines (the “octave”) and the final six (the “sextet”), the dividing line and turning point in the poem, possibly representing the moment of ejaculation—the “shudder in the loins.”

Yeats’s begins the poem in an abrupt manner, “A sudden blow”, bringing the reader dramatically into the fray, making them believe we are witnessing the events.This is similarly used in ‘The Cold Heaven’ beginning with “Suddenly”, also projecting a sense of urgency, immediately drawing the readers attention. The octet then deals with the ‘attack’. The swans power is immediately brought forward with it’s “great wings”, contrasting to the weakness of the “staggering girl”. Yeats uses violent language in this octet to make the reader empathise the girl,

“her nape caught in his bill”, “he holds her helpless breast upon his breast” .

In the second stanza, a common technique of Yeats is used; the rhetorical question. Yeats also creates ambiguity as to whether Leda consents here; “How can those terrified vague fingers push the feathered glory from her loosened thighs?” Her “thighs” might be “loosening” through choice and not by force as well as her thighs being “caressed”, which reflects a more affectionate scene. Yet Yeats also describes her “breast” as “helpless” which implies She has no choice over what happens – whether or not she is rendered “helpless” by her lust remains one of the key points for debate. This idea of the girl ‘letting it happen’ also links to the people of Ireland just ‘taking it’ during the Easter rising in ‘Easter 1916’. 

The three rhetorical questions in the poem, like in ‘September 1913’ are used by Yeats as a way to challenge the reader and leaves them wondering with thought. “And how can that body, laid in that white rush, but feel the strange heart beating where it lies?” The poem also ends with a rhetorical question, like in ‘Wild Swans at Coole’ and ‘the Second Coming’. “Did she put on his knowledge with his power before the indifferent beak could let her drop?” leaves the reader with the idea of the affects of rape and Zeus’ power and knowledge possibly transferring to Leda. The result of rape in this case reflects on Yeats’ idea of ‘violence breeding violence’ as Helen of Troy was born, she was later abducted from her husband by Paris, resulting in the violent Trojan war.

“Mastered by the brute of blood” along with the fact that the “beak could let her drop” again shows Zeus’ dominance. This final line, with the rest of the poem, could be symbolic of the Gods intervene in human affairs and then dropping it.

“A shudder in the loins engenders there The broken wall, the burning roof and tower And Agamemnon dead.” makes clear that the effects of this rape ends with not only the death of Agamemnon, but also the absolute destruction of Troy. If Leda did indeed consent to the union with Zeus, then she is effectively the catalyst for horror – this may be a reflection on the actions of some of the women Yeats knew or Yeats may even be discussing the consequences of his own actions. This refers to the idea of the consequences of one action being seen to unfold over decades of violence and destruction, in Yeats’ case, the destruction of culture – rendered as a motif here by the destruction of Troy.

Throughout the poem, Yeats uses vivid language to create intense imagery of the rape, “terrified”, “shudder”, “burning roof”. This contrasts with the semantic field of sexual intercourse used in the poem; “breast upon breast”, “loosening thighs”, “shudder in the loins”. This creates the sense of the violence into the sexual act, and that there isn’t any ‘love’ present. The idea of the ‘Swan is also a paradox to the ‘Wild Swans at Coole’, the Irish wild swans were seen as beautiful, peaceful and “brilliant creatures”, where as the Greek god swans are only forceful.



Thank you for reading, here are some websites which helped me in my research;







My analysis of W. B. Yeats – ‘The Second Coming’

This poem was composed by Yeats in 1919, just at the end of the First World War (the ‘recovery’ period, if you like), and it was originally named ‘The Second Birth’. The poem is considered a major work of Modernist poetry and has been reprinted in several collections, including ‘The Norton Anthology of Modernist Poetry’.

The first stanza of the poem begins by describing the conditions present in the world, “Things fall apart”, “Mere anarchy”, and the second surmises from those conditions that a monstrous Second Coming is about to take place, not of the Jesus we first knew, but of a new messiah, a “rough beast,” the slouching sphinx rousing itself in the desert and lumbering toward Bethlehem. This brief exposition, though intriguingly blasphemous, is not terribly complicated; but the question of what it should signify to a reader is another story entirely.

As it was written post WW1, you would think this poem to be full of hope and youthfulness (like Europe should have been), but instead, Yeats takes a turn and instead composed this poem as a way to describe what he finds most terrifying post- WW1. 

‘The Second Coming’ seems to be written in blank verse, as it has a consistent meter (rough iambic pentameter), but doesn’t include any strict rhyme scheme. It includes twenty two lines split into two stanzas, but does not appear to follow any particular formal tradition. The second stanza of the poem is made up of fourteen lines, this suggestively creates the impression it could be a sonnet, as it uses the same line length. The first stanza, however, is only made up of eight lines, this could be thought of as a fragment of a sonnet that is ‘interrupted’ by the full sonnet of the second stanza. However, these aren’t ‘true’ sonnets in the classic sense because of the un-structured rhyme scheme. 

The title of the poem, ‘The Second Coming’, refers to the Second Coming of Christ, as predicted in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Bible. The phrase, “the second coming”, stands as a symbol of its own, gathered from the history and consciousness of humankind back to the beginning of recorded time, referred to in the poem as “Spiritus Mundi”. This book is also known as the Apocalypse and is seen as the most violent parts of the bible. Also, when Yeats wrote the poem, World War I had just ended in Europe, and a lot of people were starting to take the idea of a “war to end all wars” more seriously. They were also worried about how to tell good and evil apart. Amid this pessimistic atmosphere, Yeats adds a sinister twist to the idea of the Second Coming in his poem, suggesting that the end of history might not be heralded by the return of Christ at all, but by the coming of the Antichrist – a symbol of violence and chaos in the world.

A main technique in which Yeats uses in this poem (as well as throughout all of his poetry), is the use of unexplained symbols. Such as “Falcon”, “A shape with lion body and the head of a man” (referring to the Egyptian Sphinx), and “rough beast”. This technique of taking symbols from a variety of sources e.g the Bible, history, folklore, Greek mythology, and his own plays is popular throughout Yeats’ poetry. Yeats’ use of rich and vivid symbols in this poem creates a feeling of disaster, turning to dread at the thought of facing a change, even when such change could be an improvement.

The opening line begins with the repetition of “Turning and turning”, could be a symbol to life. And the “widening gyre”, Yeats uses this symbol throughout his poetry. Technically, it stands from the alternation between two historical cycles: one characterized by order and growth, the other by chaos and decay. It’s also comparable to the Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang. A tone of confusion and tension is set from the first opening lines. “The falcon cannot hear the falconer”, symbolising the things being out of sync and the chaos that Europe had been left with post WW1. The “falcon” may also be a reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth regarding to the unnatural events occurring on the morning after the death of King Duncan, “On Tuesday last / A falcon, towering in her pride of place”. “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” could be referring to a society out of control and again, works with the line before it of the “falcon cannot hear the falconer” in adding to this idea of chaos. These two lines create a fast rhythm to the reader, projecting a sense of almost desperation. “Mere anarchy” could mean a couple of things; perhaps nothing more than confusion, or a confusion that was once held back by civilization, but is now free, and ironically, binding at the same time. When some commit anarchy, others are bound by the consequences of the anarchist’s actions and are paradoxically not free to be anarchic themselves.

The second stanza appears more prophetic, with the repetition of the first word of the two lines “Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand”, the repetition of “surely” expresses the doubt that Yeats would have been feeling during the time. “Desert sand”, adds to the semantic field of religion, possibly referring to the time where Jesus was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit so that the devil could test him. “The head of a man, a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun”. Gives no specific personification to this character that we can be drawn to or admire. This somehow repels the reader from this inhuman thing that moves closer and closer, like death. There will be a death when it arrives to its destination; the death of old ideas, and the destiny of man shot in another direction, from which it may then spiral again in yet another “widening gyre”.

There are two types of language that is used in this poem, firstly Yeats uses sinister like language, “blood-dimmed”, “drowned”, “nightmare” to express the terror occurring during the idea of Armageddon and ascension day. Also the use of religious language, “desert sand”, “rocking cradle”, “Bethlehem to be born”. These two language types used together in this poem creates a huge paradox in which is conveyed throughout the whole of the poem.

‘The Second Coming’ is considered a major work of modernist poetry and has been used/adapted in popular culture today. Here are some interesting examples I have found during my research;

  • DC Comics’ series ‘Batman: The Widening Gyre’, written by Kevin Smith, and illustrated by his lifelong friend and muse, Walter Flanagan, was titled after the opening line of this poem and draws heavily on Yeats’ themes and symbolism.
  • Stephen King’s novel ‘The Stand’ quotes the poem and heavily references the poem throughout the book. Many plot points parallel lines from the poem.
  • In the comic ‘V for Vendetta’ by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the character V quotes the poem.
  • In the TV series ‘Heroes’, Season 3 Episode 1 is titled “The Second Coming”, and the narrator recites the poem in the closing moments of the show.

– I hope you have found this blog post useful in your own analysis of ‘The Second Coming’, here are some websites that I found the most useful in my research of this poem;






Thanks for reading! –


‘September 1913’ & ‘Easter 1916’ – W.B Yeats compared and contrasted

Throughout many of his poems, W.B Yeats portrayed important aspects of Ireland’s history especially around the 1900’s when Ireland was fighting for independence. The poems ‘September 1913’ and ‘Easter 1916’ both reflect the political, cultural, and societal atmospheres that were found in Ireland at this time. 

‘September 1913′ focuses on displaying Yeats’ new stance of belief exploring his new political mind during the time where the Irish Independence was also at it’s highest. This poem is about what Yeats sees as a lack of compassion in his countrymen and a reaction to their apathy

In ‘Easter 1916′, however, the focus is mainly on working through Yeats’ personal feelings about the revolutionary movement and is almost used as an elegy to the leaders executed whilst trying to prevent Great Britain from ruling Ireland. 

The way in which Yeats names many political leaders in both of these two poems makes them similar. In ‘September’, he mentions “O’Leary” at the end of each stanza, John O’Leary was an Irish separatist who focused on getting the greatest good for Ireland. He uses him in this poem as a symbol of national integrity. The repetition of O’Leary makes it clear Yeats looked up and admired him and that he wishes for a return to the less egotistical and self-driven politics of a bygone era. The line “It’s with O’Leary in the grave” projects Yeats’ idea of O’Leary’s death linking to the ‘death’ of Ireland as he no longer is able to guide it. Yeats also mentions Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone in the third stanza, all Irish revolutionists and leaders (whom Yeats idolised), so that they stand out from the rest of the nation.

‘Easter’ similarly includes the key figures (this time involved in the Easter uprising), but contrasting to ‘September’ by alluding to them without actually listing names. “That woman’s days were spent” refers to Constance Markiewicz, an Irish revolutionist and politician. Yeats expresses a negative opinion of Markiewicz calling her “ignorant”. “Until her voice grew shrill”, I think Yeats is trying to put across here the idea of Markiewicz being almost ‘spoilt’ by politics with the use of this negative language, as he was a long-time friend to her before. The reference to “harriers” also backs up this idea as it can be seen as a symbol of attacking innocence (meaning politics attacking innocent Markiewicz). The man who “kept a school / And rode our winged horse” is a reference to Patrick Pearse, and the lines about Pearse’s “helper and friend” allude to Thomas MacDonagh, again both Easter rising leaders. In Yeats’s description of the three, his torn feelings about the Easter uprising are most keenly communicated. He contrasts the “shrill” voice of Countess Markievicz as a revolutionary, with his remembrance of her incomparably “sweet” voice when she was a young woman; and he contrasts the haughty public personae of Pearse against his impression of his “sensitive” nature, describing how “daring and sweet” his ideals were even though he and MacDonagh had to resort to “force”.

‘Easter 1916’ has a noticeable pattern in it’s form, stanza 1 and 3 both having 16 lines to represent 1916, and stanza 2 and 4 having 24 lines representing the date in which the uprising began April 24th (4 stanzas being the 4th month, April). This to me is a clever way of Yeats expressing the deep, meaningful thoughts he has over the rising. ‘September 1913’, however is simply written in a 4 stanza 8 line poem with an alternating rhyme rhythm throughout. This to me, suggests the stability and regularity that Yeats wanted to return to Ireland at that time, as well as setting an accusatory and conversational tone.

Yeats uses irony in both of these poems, in ‘September’ by the use of religious language, “prayer” and “born to pray”, this language is used as a mockery to the Catholics as they ‘took from Ireland’ -being responsible for apathy. “Fumble in a greasy till”, Yeats accuses the Catholics of being the reason of the workers having little money taking from them, and the life out of Ireland. This gives a very clear idea of these people killing Ireland. In ‘Easter’, “fire at the club” is an English saying, this irony is also used to mock the English, also the line “where motley is worn”, motley being the clothes of a jester suggests Yeats’ disrespect towards the revolutionists almost calling them clown-like.

‘September’ begins with Yeats immediately directing to the reader being the middle class workers, in first person, “What need you”, this instantly projects a sense of anger. ‘Easter’ is written in first person narrative, “I have met them”, this instantly distances Yeats from the rest of the people. 

Both poems also use rhetorical questions, which could mean this is a technique Yeats is a big user of. “Could they save?” and “She rode to harriers?” the constant use of rhetorical questions in these poems could be to convey a sense of confusion, or the idea that the questions can never be truly answered.

I hope this has been some use to you in either your notes on ‘Easter 1916’ or ‘September 1913’, looking at these comparisons has helped me to understand Yeats further and his writing techniques and feelings. In my opinion, I think it is most interesting in reading ‘September’ before looking at ‘Easter’ as (apart from being written earlier) shows us the change in Yeats’ feelings about the changes that were occurring in Ireland at that time.


My W. B. Yeats & Oscar Wilde research

At home I have just completed some background research on both writers Oscar Wilde and W. B. Yeats. Hopefully this information may be of some use to you for better understanding of their backgrounds before we begin to look at their novel/poems in greater depth..

Oscar Wilde 1854-1900 

Wilde was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford. While at Oxford, he became involved in the aesthetic movement. After he graduated, he moved to London to pursue a literary career.

‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde. In a letter, Wilde said the main characters were reflections of himself:

“Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry is what the world thinks me: Dorian is what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps”.

It appeared as the lead story in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine printed as the July 1890 issue. The magazine’s editors feared the story was indecent as submitted, so they censored roughly 500 words, without Wilde’s knowledge, before publication. But even with that, the story was still greeted with outrage by British reviewers, some of whom suggested that Wilde should be prosecuted on moral grounds, leading Wilde to defend the novel aggressively in letters to the British press. He later revised the story for book publication, making substantial alterations, deleting controversial passages, adding new chapters and including an aphoristic Preface which has since become famous in its own right. The amended version was published in April 1891. Some scholars believe that Wilde would today have wanted us to read the version he originally submitted to Lippincott’s.

His greatest talent was for writing plays, and he produced a string of extremely popular comedies including ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ (1892), ‘An Ideal Husband (1895)’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (1895). ‘Salomé’ was performed in Paris in 1896.

Drama and tragedy marred Wilde’s private life. He married Constance Lloyd in 1884 and they had two sons, but in 1891 Wilde began an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. In April 1895, Wilde sued Douglas’ father, the Marquis of Queensberry, for libel, after the Marquis had accused him of being homosexual. Wilde lost and, after details of his private life were revealed during the trial, was arrested and tried for gross indecency. He was sentenced to two years of hard labour. While in prison he composed a long letter to Douglas, posthumously published under the title ‘De Profundis’ .  Wilde was released with his health irrevocably damaged and his reputation ruined. He spent the rest of his life in Europe, publishing ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ in 1898. He died in Paris on 30 November 1900.

Oscar Wilde portrait.jpg

William Butler Yeats 1865-1939

Yeats was born in Dublin and educated there and in London.

His earliest volume of verse was published in 1889, and its slow-paced and lyrical poems display Yeats’s debts to Edmund Spenser, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the poets of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. From 1900, Yeats’s poetry grew more physical and realistic. He largely renounced the transcendental beliefs of his youth, though he remained preoccupied with physical and spiritual masks, as well as with cyclical theories of life. So after 1910, Yeats’s dramatic art took a sharp turn toward a highly poetical, static, and esoteric style. His later plays were written for small audiences; experimenting with masks, dance, and music, and were profoundly influenced by the Japanese Noh plays. Although a convinced patriot, Yeats deplored the hatred and the bigotry of the Nationalist movement, and his poetry is full of moving protests against it.

In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as the first Irishman so honoured for what the Nobel Committee described as:

“inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929)