Please give a detailed explanation about the theme and style used in the poem "The Ballad Of Father Gilligan."

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In "The Ballad Of Father Gilligan" by William Butler Yeats, the style of a "Symbolist" poet with his use of "allusive imagery and symbolic structures." In essence, Yeats wrote poems that suggested a superficial idea, but selected words and sentence structure so carefully that a "subliminal" meaning was forthcoming as well.

Yeats chose words and assembled them so that in addition to a particular meaning they suggest other abstract thoughts...

Yeats made great use of "symbols"—in all, his poems were rather traditional, though many of his contemporaries were experimenting with "free verse." As his writing continued throughout his life, his style changed to a degree using language that was more rigid and presenting his themes in a more direct manner.

Yeats poetry as a younger writer concentrated more on "Irish myth and folklore;" his later writing matured as did the poet, when he started to write about more current issues—at which point his style changed dramatically.

Yeats writes "The Ballad of Father Gilligan" in four-line stanzas, which are like paragraphs—in a poem. The rhyme scheme of the poem is A-B-C-B. In other words, the first and third lines of the stanza (e.g., "Gilligan" and "beds") do not rhyme, but the second and fourth lines do (e.g., "day" and "lay."). This same pattern is seen in the second stanza: "chair and "him" do not rhyme, but "eve" and "grieve" do. The poem has twelve total stanzas. The title of Yeats' poem uses the word "ballad" which generally means "song." The word "ballad" actually comes from the French "balada," which means "to dance." One definition of "ballad," which best seems to describe Yeats' poem is:

...a simple narrative poem of folk origin, composed in short stanzas and adapted for singing

This poem is not a song in itself as far as we can see, but the sense of a song can often come from the meter or rhythm of the poem. The lines move back and forth, between four stressed syllables per line and three. (The emphasis lies on every other syllable.) For example:

'I have no rest, nor joy, nor peace,

For peo-ple die and die';

And af-ter cried he, 'God for-give!

My bo-dy spake, not I!'

The words or parts of words that are bolded indicate the rhythm of the poem. As you speak it (poems are meant to be spoken aloud), placing stress or emphasis on those bolded elements gives the poem a rocking motion, like a dance.

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