An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

by William Butler Yeats

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How does “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” address the concept of death?

Quick answer:

“An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” deals with the idea of death by presenting it as something to be treated with indifference. The eponymous airman knows that he will be killed in action, yet he takes to the skies anyway due to “a lonely impulse of delight.”

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The Irish airman of Yeats's poem makes it abundantly clear that he was not motivated to go to war by any of the usual factors that made so many young men sign up to fight.

He doesn't fight out of a sense of patriotism; those he guards he does not love, meaning that, as a proud Irishman, he is not fighting for the British Empire, of which his native country is still a part. Nor has he succumbed to the clamor of cheering crowds full of jingoistic fervor at the prospect of a swift, glorious victory.

For good measure, the airman doesn't even hate the enemy. As he tells us, “Those I fight I do not hate.” It transpires that he's only fighting because it gives him “a lonely impulse of delight,” a feeling of sheer joy that he derives from taking to the skies alone.

The airman's attitude to death is one of complete indifference. He doesn't just think that he will die somewhere among the clouds; he knows that he will. And yet, he doesn't seem to care. Death is nothing to him, a matter of supreme indifference.

Looking at the bigger picture, he realizes that, in the overall scheme of things, his death won't make the slightest bit of difference to the outcome of the war, or to the future of that part of Ireland from which he hails, Kiltartan Cross.

When he examines his life, the airman sees it as nothing more than a waste of breath. And if he should survive, the years remaining to him will be exactly the same. This stands in stark contrast to the short life of an airman, which at least can give him something he can't get elsewhere or in any other situation: a lonely impulse of delight.

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what is the soldier's attitude towards life and death in the poem "an irish airman foresees his death"?

A Byronic hero, the Irish airman contemplates his demise with aristocratic aplomb and a certain amount of ambiguity as he ponders that he is unconcerned for either side of World War I, the Germans and the English, 

Those that I fight I do not hate,

Those that I guard I do not love

Watching his dreams shatter, the Irish airman has the Joycean moment of insight in which he recognizes that he has enlisted because of "A lonely impulse of delight," the excitement of chauvanism.  Now, the future seems "a waste of breath," which then makes his past equally meaningless as he balances life and death. All has been for nothing as his country is "Kiltartan Cross" and his countrymen "Kiltartan's poor" for whom

No likely end could bring them loss

Or leave them happier than before.... 

A waste of breath the years behind

In balance with this life, this death.

 A poignant poem, "An Irsh Airman Foresees His Death" expresses the existential futility of both life and death, but it is a futility that the Romantic individual accepts.

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Explain the content of the poem "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death."

This poem, composed as a dramatic monologue, was written by William Butler Yeats to commemorate the valor and patriotism of Major Robert Gregory, an Irish aviator, who was a member of the gentry and an artist and a scholar.

The poem deals with the untimely death of an Irishman, who ironically could have better served his country had he lived because he could have helped to quell the unrest in his beloved Ireland after the war.

The aviator is likened to a Byronic hero since he has volunteered to fly for the British government out of a romantic desire for adventure:

A lonely impulse of delight 
Drove to this tumult in the clouds,

That the airman has had foreknowledge of his demise is indicated in the first two lines. He is well aware of the risks involved in flying machinery that has not been perfected and could well be shot down. But, the airman, true hero that he is, avoids any regret and resentment.

Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love

Certainly, this poem conveys the futility of war and the pilot's philosophical contemplation of the insignificance of his bold adventure.

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