The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

William Butler Yeats’s poem “No Second Troy” is composed of four sentences, each of them a question, and is shaped into twelve lines of iambic pentameter. The poem is a typical lyric in that it expresses the poet’s personal feelings about his love, and it remains focused on a single issue. The poet suggests through his questions that he should not blame his love for filling his life with misery because she is unable to find a proper outlet for her talents in the Ireland of her day.

The first question Yeats asks is actually made up of three parts, one entirely personal, the others more political. He asks why he should blame this woman for filling his life with misery, teaching violence to the ignorant, or encouraging class conflict. By linking these three, Yeats equates to some degree his own personal misery with what he considers to be social misery: political violence, especially when it is involved in pitting one class (the working class in this case) against another (the aristocratic class).

Once the poet establishes the harm this woman has done and exonerates her for that, he describes the woman herself and contrasts her with her milieu. He clearly states that she could not be peaceful, that she had to do violence to him or encourage violence in others, because her mind, her body, and her soul were not in harmony with her world. Her mind is noble; Yeats suggests that others in the society are not. Her beauty is not something common...

(The entire section is 426 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Knowledge of Greek myth and Yeats’s biography is essential for an understanding of this poem. Yeats loved and proposed marriage many times to Maud Gonne, an Irish revolutionary patriot, but she rejected him each time. In 1903, five years before this poem was written, Gonne married John MacBride, then separated from him in 1905. Gonne is the woman spoken about in this poem and many other poems by Yeats. Here she is compared to Helen of Troy, the woman whose abduction by Paris led to the Trojan War and the final burning of that city by the Greeks. This allusion to classical myth is the literary device that drives the poem forward and gives it the unity of design that is a central facet of this poem.

Yeats is essentially asking how he could blame Maud Gonne for making his own life miserable because she is like Helen, the daughter of Zeus. Gonne, according to Yeats, could not find a proper role in a society, unless she lived in the mythic world of ancient Greece.

The metaphorical language used in the second sentence of the poem only makes sense in this context of Greek myth. The comparison between the nobility of her mind and the simplicity of a fire is not an arbitrary comparison: That fire is linked with the destruction of Troy. Similarly, the comparison between her beauty and a tightened bow refers to the violence of the Trojan War. The tightened bow of her beauty and the fire of her mind must find outlets, but because she lives in Ireland,...

(The entire section is 433 words.)