Yeats’ “Airman” Jun10


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Yeats’ “Airman”

Yeats’ poetry is very much an historic record of Ireland throughout some of its most troubled years; it’s much more besides however. There is a universal aspect to Yeats’ themes: he concerns himself with unavoidable life challenges like ageing, the role of art, violence and individualism. Regardless of what theme he is exploring, he relies on contrast and symbolism as well as imagery. Thus, there is much to admire thematically as well as in terms of style.

There is much in Yeats’ work to engage a student of history. Much of it is contextual rather than informative. An Irish Airman Foresees His Death tells the personal story of one airman whose unique motivation is laid bare to great effect. Yeats intuits Gregory’s visceral response to the war; he is drawn as if by pure instinct not to any nationalistic principles but to the opportunities of battle for a fuller expression of who he is as a man and adventurer: “A lonely impulse of delight/Drove to this tumult in the clouds”. There may have been many such men and as many instincts, but we are shown Gregory and Gregory alone, and his voice is distinct and impressive. His aloofness is to the fore: “Those that I guard I do not hate/Those that I guard I do not love”. These is an extraordinary sense of balance in his tone and while he may seem to have a death wish such an impression is flawed: “I balanced all, brought all to mind”.