What is William Butler Yeats trying to convey in the in the last 4 lines of "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death?"  I would also like to know the deep philosophies that the poet employs in the last...

What is William Butler Yeats trying to convey in the in the last 4 lines of "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death?"

 

I would also like to know the deep philosophies that the poet employs in the last 4 lines (about the philosophy of life and death).  

Asked on by kimoyo

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literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The last four lines of William Butler Yeats' poem, "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death," changes the point of view from very personal (as seen with the use of first person personal pronouns-like "I" and "my") to third person ("this").

Philosophically, the speaker's point of view on death, at the beginning, is one which is accepted. The speaker openly states that he (assumed based upon the gender of the poet and use of the word "airman") knows his work is simply work.


Those that I fight I do not hate

Those that I guard I do not love.

The speaker understands that everything that he does is for himself.

That said, in the last four lines of the poem, the speaker's feelings become very detached. It is no longer "his" life or death; instead, it is "this" life and death.

I balanced all, brought all to mind,    
The years to come seemed waste of breath,    
A waste of breath the years behind    
In balance with this life, this death.

It seems that the speaker's point of view on life and death (as can be seen as the poet's intent) is no longer his own. His detachment could come from the lack of emotions for both what he does and who he does it for. Given that he cannot feel emotions, he becomes detached from both life and death; neither are his. Essentially, the intent behind the poem defines the change of attitude when one's actions go disregarded.

Sources:
akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The last four lines help to bring out the overall philosophical condition in the poem.  There is a futility that is conveyed in the closing lines of the poem:

I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

In contrast to a Romantic philosophical approach of death on the battlefield or something that moves into a nationalist philosophy where death for the country is noble, there is a sense of futility and a sense of nihilism that is demonstrated through these lines.  This helps to create a very Modernist philosophical approach, where there has been a fundamental shift in how war is viewed and how the dead becomes the only source that benefits in war.  This becomes the end philosophical position at the conclusion of the poem. 

Sources:

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