Critically analyze the poem "Meru" by William Butler Yeats.

In "Meru," William Butler Yeats uses the sonnet structure to comment on the cyclical nature of civilization and to contrast those who cannot help destroying their own existence with the hermits who observe the destruction from their isolation.

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William Butler Yeats's "Meru" is a Shakespearean sonnet, though it is structured and laid out like a Petrarchan sonnet, with a break between the octave and a sestet. The octave makes a general point about the fragility of civilization, which is "hooped together" like a barrel. There is an implied metaphor here, with civilization as the wooden part of the barrel and "manifold illusion" as the metal hoops that hold it together. The fragility of the construct is emphasized by the anaphora in the second line, and the ferocity of the threat from within is similarly stressed by the repetition and alliteration in lines five and six. There is a chiasmus in the last line of the octave, which bids farewell to the great civilizations of the past, all of them destroyed by the "Ravening, raging and uprooting" of mankind.

The atmosphere changes in the sestet, leaving behind the destruction of cities for the isolation of hermits on the mythical Mount Meru and the real Mount Everest. The hermits suffer in their own way, as snow falls on their naked bodies, but for them, suffering brings not ravening destruction but wisdom and perspective. The cyclical nature of time, with day succeeding night, and the magnificence of civilization giving way to barbarism and chaos before a new civilization arises, echoes the image of the hoops at the beginning of the sonnet.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 17, 2021
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