Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 369
Heroism as Redemption
Yeats writes about the Irish people who sacrificed themselves by fighting in the Easter Rising against the British in 1916. These people were everyday individuals who were ennobled to some degree by their efforts. A woman who spends her days in argument "until her voice grew shrill" becomes beautiful with her sacrifice. Even an arrogant man whom Yeats knows and does not particularly like, as this man has harmed those he loves, has achieved a kind of greatness for his role. At the end of the poem, Yeats mentions by name the people who led the uprising and who have also achieved a kind of beauty with their sacrifice.
Though Yeats believes that the people who sacrificed themselves for the Irish cause are ennobled by their efforts, he also questions the wisdom of fighting with violence. He asks at the end of the poem whether death was necessary, as England will continue their policies in spite of people's sacrifices. Yeats writes about a man with a very sensitive nature and believes that this man would have achieved greatness if he had not died fighting in the Easter Rising. The oxymoron "terrible beauty," which appears several times in the poem, expresses Yeats's divided mind. He at once celebrates the heroism of those who died for the cause of Irish independence and questions the wisdom of this sacrifice and whether it was necessary.
Immortality through Legacy
Yeats compares those who sacrifice themselves to a stone at the bottom of a stream. This image can be interpreted to symbolize the conviction of the fighters, who proceeded in the face of death. The stone faces the force of the water as well as other physical forces, yet it holds its ground. Similarly, despite all of the factors threatening them, the rebels persisted in protest. Everything around the stone changes, such as a horse that comes to the stream with a rider, the clouds, or the birds around the stream. Despite these changes that take place around it, the stone remains unchanged. The stone can also be interpreted to stand for the permanence and immortality of the legacies of those who fought, and their noble efforts will remain while all around them changes.