How does Yeats depict his time in his poems- Sailing to Byzantium, A Prayer for My Daughter and The second Coming?

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Payal Khullar | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Yeats wrote Sailing to Byzantium when he was old and mature. The opening paragraph of the poem is very significant in describing the worldview and mindset of people during that time. Yeats says that the country he is living in “is no country for old men”. Yeats is talking about post 1922 Ireland, a free state that saw struggle, bloodshed and violence in the past (The Irish War of Independence). Yeats says that the focus of the milieu now was towards bodily desires, sensuality, freshness, growth and reproduction. Yeats, now an old man, wants to escape to the holy city of Byzantium as the present generation neglects and doesn’t value grandeur of the past. This also strongly hints towards a loss of spirituality during that time.

Written somewhere around 1919, Yeats’ The Second Coming reflects upon the consequences of the First World War in Europe. The poem uses powerful and violent visual symbols to describe the terrible condition of the world around him after the Great War. Everything got out of control. When Yeats wrote the poem, he saw people suffering and recovering from their loss. In the poem, Yeats talks about a rebirth and reawakening following on the biblical prophesies of “apocalypse” and Jesus Christ’s Second Coming” on Earth.

Yeats’ A Prayer for My Daughter is written in the political and historical context of Irish Nationalism and Irish War of Independence, 1916. Yeats describes this turbulent period in Ireland as a “howling storm”. Yeats also talks about Maud Gonne, who was not only a significant figure in the Irish War of Independence, but also someone who rejected his passionate love.

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