Study Guide

All Souls' Night

by William Butler Yeats

All Souls' Night Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“All Souls’ Night” functions as an epilogue to and something of a defense of A Vision. The book uses the phases of the moon and other mystical symbols to organize human character into cycles. Furthermore, it places these cycles into historical cones. It is therefore clear why Yeats insists in “All Souls’ Night” that he has marvelous things to say. The ghosts that Yeats calls up in the poem are symbolic of the ability of Yeats’s system to connect the living and the dead. The ghosts provide an example of the poet’s success, and they join him in celebrating his creation of a system that provides all the answers about time, humanity, and history.

One important theme is the claim that Yeats has united heaven and hell, a concept that he learned from English poet William Blake. At the end of the poem, Yeats speaks of how his meditation can both defy the world and penetrate “To where the damned have howled away their hearts,/ And where the blessed dance.” His vision is capable of encompassing both parts of the afterlife and reconciling these opposites. Yeats’s vision also involves a rejection of the world, which remains outside the ceremony of calling up the ghosts. However, he describes Horton as achieving a reunion with his lost beloved. The reunion must be in the afterlife. This brings to mind Yeats’s assertions of a union with Maud Gonne, a woman who spurned him and his proposals of marriage, in the other world if not this world. The reconciliation of “Chance and Choice” is another important theme in Yeats’s work. The reconciliation that is claimed in “All Souls’ Night” is a symbol for “Unity of Being,” a state that Yeats sought all his life. In a note to his play Calvary (1921), Yeats said that the union of “Chance and Choice” was only to be found in God. In “All Souls’ Night,” it is a discovery made by Emery and is comparable to the reconciliation of opposites that Yeats achieves in both the poem and A Vision.