In Memory of W. B. Yeats

by W. H. Auden

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How is W. B. Yeats presented in the poem "In Memory of W. B. Yeats"?

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In "In Memory of W. B. Yeats," the poet presents W. B. Yeats as a man who had a substantial impact on his readers. The poet states that while Yeats's death was a tragic loss to the world, his impact lives on through the emotions invoked in his work. 

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The poem "In Memory of W. B. Yeats" by W. H. Auden is divided into three sections, has three distinct poetic styles, and presents Yeats, the subject of the poem, in three different ways.

First of all, Auden writes that Yeats "disappeared in the dead of winter" and goes on to describe various seasonal aspects of winter. When he says that "the day of his death was a dark cold day," he intends it in both a literal and metaphysical sense. Yeats died in January, which is an extremely cold month in Ireland, and his death caused a great warm poetic voice to become silenced. In this first section of the poem, Auden emphasizes that the only life that Yeats has left is in the minds and hearts of his readers: "he became his admirers." He is "scattered among a hundred cities" because his poetry is popular and he lives in his readers. Auden explains that people who read Yeats' poems have different interpretations of them when he says that they are "modified in the guts of the living."

In the second section, Auden addresses Yeats directly. The volatility of Ireland served as inspiration for Yeats' poems. Now Yeats is dead, but Ireland still has "her madness and her weather." Auden then expresses his famous line that "poetry makes nothing happen." It does not so much shape events as provide an emotional reaction to them.

In the third and final section of the poem, Auden presents Yeats as an "honored guest" that the Earth receives. He praises Yeats' poetry as an "unconstraining voice" that causes readers to rejoice, as a force that can make life-giving vineyards out of curses, as a power that can make even distress seem rapturous, as a "healing fountain" in "the deserts of the heart," and as a source of praise when "free men" live in "the prison of their days." In other words, despite his death, Yeats, through his poetry, still has the power to help his readers feel more alive.

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