A Prayer for My Daughter

by William Butler Yeats
Start Free Trial

Whom is the speaker referring to in the line "Have I not seen the loveliest woman born" in "A Prayer for My Daughter"?

In the line "Have I not seen the loveliest woman born," the speaker is referring to Maud Gonne MacBride.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the eighth stanza of "A Prayer for My Daughter," W. B. Yeats writes,

Have I not seen the loveliest woman bornOut of the mouth of Plenty's horn,Because of her opinionated mindBarter that horn and every goodBy quiet natures understood For an old bellows...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In the eighth stanza of "A Prayer for My Daughter," W. B. Yeats writes,

Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

The speaker is reflecting on his daughter's future and worrying about the dangers of beauty for the woman who possesses it. He began to address this topic in the fourth stanza with mythological references to Helen of Troy and the goddess Aphrodite. At this point, in the eighth stanza, he places in this mythical company a real woman, Maud Gonne MacBride, the great love of Yeats's own life.

Yeats proposed to Maud Gonne several times, at least four of them before she married John MacBride in 1903. His subsequent poetry is full of unflattering references to MacBride ("an old bellows full of angry wind") and contains even more ambiguous allusions to Maud herself. She is generally portrayed as a beautiful woman who made foolish decisions, which is the essence of Yeats's description here.

Although Maud Gonne was Yeats's chief poetic muse, the attitude he takes to her in this poem is entirely typical of his depiction of women and could also apply to Countess Markievicz, for instance. Yeats is often now regarded as a misogynist, because he seems to object to all political thought and activism by women and to regard Maud's "opinionated mind" as her chief defect, at odds with her physical beauty.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on