William Butler Yeats Questions and Answers

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Please give a summary of "The Ballad of Father Gilligan."

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"The Ballad of Father Gilligan" concerns an extremely humble and pious priest who is exhausted from trying to care for all of his flock and meeting their needs. In particular, he seems preoccupied that his job involves dealing with the death of so many of his flock:

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

For people die and die";

And after cried he, "God forgive!

My body spake, not I!"

Note here how in this stanza we see his exhaustion combined with his natural humility and piety. In a moment of weakness he reveals his frustrations, talking about his inability to find any form of peace or rest, but then quickly feels guilty for this outburst, saying that this was his "body" speaking rather than his soul. However, kneeling to pray, he finally finds the rest that he has been looking for.

A while later he wakes up, stressed, because one of his flock is near death. He rushes to the house, only to be greeted by the wife who tells him that her husband died an hour ago "as merry as a bird." Father Gilligan realises at this news how God in his infinite mercy cared for him by giving him rest and taking care of his flock so he could sleep:

"He Who is wrapped in purple robes

With planets in His care,

Had pity on the least of things

Asleep upon a chair."

Note Father Gilligan's humility in considering himself "the least of things." He has learnt how his God helps him in his time of need and cares and provides for his needs, as he tries to meet the needs of those that God has given to him.


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