An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

by William Butler Yeats

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What is the genre and tone of the poem "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death"?

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Yeats's poem "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" is a dramatic monologue. It is also a lyric poem written by Yeats in memory of Major Robert Gregory, who was shot down by Italian forces.

This poem is very lyrical in its expression of the airman's personal feelings because...

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Yeats's poem "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" is a dramatic monologue. It is also a lyric poem written by Yeats in memory of Major Robert Gregory, who was shot down by Italian forces.

This poem is very lyrical in its expression of the airman's personal feelings because it is written with a rhyme that has a particular musicality to it. "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" is written as the monologue of the pilot who has a fatalistic view of his role in World War I. As he meditates, the pilot goes through the conventional reasons for fighting and finds that he does not identify with any of them. He states, "My country is Kiltartan Cross," and the war will bring no change to any Irish lives. The speaker ultimately concludes that he has not joined the war effort out of a sense of duty nor for the acclaim of cheering crowds. With splendid phrasing and emotion, the speaker concludes, 

The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

In his poem, Yeats employs anaphora, which is the repetition of a word at the beginning of a line of poetry. For instance, the poet uses the words "Those," "My," and "Nor" in successive lines of the poem to speed the reading of these lines and to join the pair of ideas. Anaphora can also be understood as the repetition of a phrase such as "Those that I," as is illustrated in Yeats's poem:

Those that I fight I do not hate, 
Those that I guard I do not love [implying the British whose uniform he wears]

Only "a lonely impulse of delight" has driven the pilot to join the British armed forces. Now, the airman wishes his efforts were not "A waste of breath." This phrase in the last stanza suggests the futility of the speaker's life. He knows he is going to die, and his death will not be for the sake of Ireland. Moreover, the switch from the first person to the third person indicates the universal import of the airman's experiences, suggesting that all wars are webs of death in which the life of no individual matters.

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