An Irish Airman Foresees His Death Revision Notes

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death- W B Yeats

 

Context

  • The airman of the poem is Robert Gregory who was from Kiltartan, CountyGalway.
  • He was born into the privileged Anglo-Irish aristocracy and lived on the CoolePark estate
  • In 1916 he left his aristocratic lifestyle behind and joined the Royal Flying Corps and became a fighter pilot in the First World War
  • In February 1918 his fighter plane was shot down over Italy and he was killed.
  • Yeats admired Robert Gregory for his versatility as a scholar, an artist and an athlete. He was a very close friend of Robert Gregory’s mother, Lady Augusta  Gregory, with whom he set up the Abbey Theatre

 

Theme

  • The poem is written in the first person with Yeats assuming the persona of Robert Gregory as he contemplates the inevitability of his death in battle and the reasons why he joined the RFC to fight in World War I.
  • Yeats eulogises and praises a man who he greatly admired. In doing so he creates a portrait of the character of the airman, portraying him as heroic figure on account of

–          the uniqueness of his reasons for enlisting

–          the calm , rational detachment with which he confronts his death and contemplates his life

 

Structure

  • Structure and theme are closely interlinked in this poem. It is written almost entirely in iambic tetrameter, the steady rhythm and consistent rhyme scheme (ababcdcdefef) reflect his calmness and composure in the face of his imminent death as well as his detachment from both life and death. The use of the single stanza

 

Language

  • The opening “foot” of the poem stresses the word “know” which emphasises the airman’s awareness of the inevitability and imminence of his death. The regular rhythm of the line, however, shows that he does not face his death with any sense of anxiety or panic.
  • The use of the euphemism to refer to his death – “meet my fate – plays down the significance of his death and, therefore, reflects his calm acceptance of it.
  • Repetition is used to carefully balance the third and fourth lines against each other to highlight the speaker’s indifference and detachment from the war he is involved in.
  • Paradox is used in lines 5 & 6: Kiltartan Cross is a parish, not a country but the line illustrates his allegiance to his local place and people rather than king or country, something Yeats admired in the Anglo Irish aristocracy
  • Lines 7-8 reflect the airman’s realism that the outcome of the war will not significantly affect the lives of the rural peasants on his parish which separates him from the idealism of most people who joined the war effort who believed that they were fighting for a lofty cause and were making the world a better place.
  • Lines 9-12 directly address his reasons for joining the RFC
  • Lines 9 & 10 both employ double negatives which are given added stress through the use of a caesural pause in each line to stress the uniqueness of his reasons and to separate him from everyone else. Many joined because they were conscripted (“law”); many joined because they thought it was their patriotic  “duty”;  many were inspired by the prospect of glory or caught up on a wave of national enthusiasm (“cheering crowds”) while others were inspired by the rhetoric of politicians (“public men”). This combination of methods strongly emphasise that these were not the factors that influenced Robert Gregory
  • The phrase “lonely impulse” – stresses the individuality of his motives
  • The words “impulse”, “delight” and “drove” highlight that central to his motive was the pursuit of  intense pleasure and joy that he got from doing dangerous things and risking his life
  • The last four lines show that this emotional/irrational motive was then balanced with a rational reflection of his life – this is stressed by the caesural pause in the line “I balanced all, brought all to mind” , portrays his decision as one that blends reason and emotion in perfect balance
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