A Prayer for My Daughter

by William Butler Yeats

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What does the storm symbolize in Yeats's poem "A Prayer for My Daughter"?

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In Yeats's poem "A Prayer for My Daughter," the storm symbolizes the dangerous and chaotic world into which the speaker's daughter is born, reflecting the societal upheaval following World War I. It represents a violent, frenzied future, contrasting with the calm, traditional life the speaker wishes for his daughter. The storm's howling and the destructive winds are metaphors for the historical and personal challenges she will face.

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The storm is a recurrent symbol in this poem, representing the dangers of the new world the speaker's infant daughter has been born into.

The poem was written in 1919, in the aftermath of World War I. That bloody and pointless contest shook Europeans's faith in themselves as bringing progress and civilization to the world. Yeats particularly, as described in his poem "The Second Coming," felt the world was entering a new and more violent cycle or gyre of history.

The storm represents the threat of this new, dangerous, destructive world. It is "howling" as the poem opens, and the speaker's daughter is only "half hid" from it under her "cradlehood," suggesting that from the start of her life she is going to have to deal with the new order. The speaker's property offers little shelter from this stormy new world, but the poet is willing to brave it for the sake of his daughter. He wants to think and "pray" because of his "gloom" over the state of the world.

He then imagines this more violent, stormy future as like the "scream" of the sea wind. It is a time of "dancing to a frenzied drum," both innocent and "murderous." Yeats thinks of it using negative images or stereotypes associated with "primitive" people: howling, dancing to a frenzied drum, violent.

Yeats's speaker then moves from the stormy, frenzied images that describe his vision of this new world to images of calm that he wishes can be his daughter's experience. He wishes to surround her with a traditional, orderly world where she will be beautiful but not too beautiful, and grow up to be a kind, old-fashioned, and "ceremonious" wife.

The speaker then uses storm images--particularly the high winds that accompany storms--as a symbol of the "hate" he hopes his daughter will not possess. He especially hopes she will not have "intellectual hate, " comparing that to a "bellows full of angry wind."

The speaker's ideas for what his daughter should be can seem perhaps offensively old fashioned and restrictive, but he is trying to comfort himself by contrasting the calm, protected, future based on traditional values he hopes she can have with the violent "storm" the future represents.

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