The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

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 or ordinary or crass; instead, it is “high and solitary and most stern,” a type of beauty and character that is “not natural in an age like this.” Thus Yeats, while refusing to place blame on this woman, clearly places blame on the times and the culture that would not allow a woman of this type to find a proper release for her capabilities.

The third and fourth questions are tied together. The third seems to merely reiterate what has already been said, asking what she could have done differently, “being what she is” and given the culture of the times, but the fourth question, and final line of the poem, brings a whole other dimension to the poem by mentioning the burning of Troy. Certainly this comparison between Helen of Troy and the woman spoken of in this poem is expressed in the title, but this final image of the burning of Troy strengthens the allusion and explains, to some degree, the images used earlier in the poem.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

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, not Greek myth, she can only bring pain and misery, not glory and victory.

Another unifying force in this poem is the rhetorical device of using the four questions to structure the poem. Less obvious is the repetition of the interrogatory pronouns that start the questions. The third question begins, “Why, what could she have done,” and this line of iambic pentameter has an extra syllable in the line; instead of a line made up of ten syllables, it has eleven. It seems clear that the first “why” could have easily been dropped; for metrical and syntactical purposes there is no reason to write “why, what”; “what” could suffice. Yet Yeats is drawing the poem tightly together, not only by using allusions to Greek myth in his title, his imagery, and his metaphors, but also by unifying his three questions asked. The first begins, “Why should I blame her”; the second begins, “What could have made her”; and the third ties these two together by asking, “Why, what could she have done.”

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