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In W. B. Yeats’s poem “A Prayer for My Daughter,” the speaker seems anxious or worried about his daughter for various reasons, including the following:
- A fierce storm is raging outside, and only some woods and a hill are protecting the roof of his house from the storm’s strong winds (1-6).
- He feels vague fears about “the future years,” which may be “frenzied” when they arrive (14-15).
- He worries that if his daughter is granted too much beauty, she may overly excite others or she herself may become proud, disdainful, shallow, and vain. He therefore hopes that she will be granted beauty, but not excessive beauty (17-24).
- He worries once more about the problems caused by excessive physical beauty (25-32).
- He hopes that she will be courteous and kind and implicitly fears the consequences if she is not (33-40).
- He hopes that she will have a generous, lovely temperament, and thus he implicitly fears the consequences if she does not (41-48).
- He hopes that she will escape feeling hatred, and thus he implicitly fears the consequences if she does not (49-56).
- He particularly thinks that “intellectual hatred” is especially to be avoided:
An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed. (57-58).
In other words, he worries about her fate in life if she is excessively opinionated and if she hatefully inflicts her opinions on others.
- He hopes that she will achieve a kind of centeredness, autonomy, independence, and self-sustaining personality, and thus he implicitly fears the consequences if she does not attain this kind of balanced, strong, self-content character (65-72).
- He hopes that she will marry someone whose family is civilized and at peace, so that she can avoid a life of contentiousness and strife (73-76) – the kind of life he fears she may endure.
- He hopes that she will be influenced by the kind of “custom and . . . ceremony” from which “innocence and beauty [are] born,” and thus he implicitly fears the consequences if she lacks these kinds of benign influences on her life.
- Ultimately, then, the speaker fears bad, unfortunate influences on his daughter’s life more than he fears the storm that is currently raging outside.
Before even beginning his actual prayer, Yates sets the scene by describing the conditions he sees and hears around him. He is surrounded by a howling storm, great gusts of wind blowing waves crashing into bridges, collapsing buildings, threatening the lives of any who are out on the sea. Into this tumultuous world, his daughter has been born, and he fears for her safety.
Beyond the superficial concern about the storm, however, Yates has deeper and more life-long concerns. He is concerned that she be physically appealing but not so attractive that she thinks of beauty as her main accomplishment and doesn't strive to develop relationships based on anything other than appearance.
He hopes that she will grow up understanding the importance of being kind to others, treating all with courtesy and charm. He prays that her spirit will not be choked off by the hatred of others.
Last, Yates prays for his daughter to find a husband who will provide a stable, comfortable and tradition-filled home.
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