A Prayer for My Daughter

by William Butler Yeats

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What does the poet pray for in "A Prayer for My Daughter"?

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The poet prays "In a Prayer for my Daughter" that his daughter will be reasonably beautiful and have a secure, innocent, and well-ordered life rooted in marriage, home, and traditional values.

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Yeats wrote a poem of longing for stability for his infant daughter in the aftermath of World War I, a time in which the world seemed entirely unsettled. This is a backward-looking poem, dreaming of a more ordered and traditional world, perhaps one that has existed only in the imagination.

Yeats's speaker prays that his daughter be beautiful, but not have so much beauty that she is turned away from kindness and loyalty. He prays that she primarily become "courteous," meaning kind, giving, and thoughtful, and notes that many men have been won over to a less beautiful woman by these traits. He prays that she keeps her thoughts to herself and avoids starting quarrels. He wishes that she would remain rooted in a place that is "dear" to her.

Although he lives in a world in which people seem to be increasingly dominated by hatred, the speaker hopes his daughter can avoid that trait. He especially condemns what he calls "intellectual" hatred in a woman and prays that his daughter, instead, have a "quiet nature" and a "radical innocence."

The speaker envisions his daughter marrying into a family ruled by tradition and old-fashioned virtues, "where all's accustomed, ceremonious." "Innocence and beauty," he states, flourish in the context of this kind of ordered life.

The poem can be difficult to read in today's post-feminist world because of its emphasis on the importance of beauty over intellect, innocence, and submissive virtues as all-important in a woman, and its assumption that a woman's chief destiny is marriage. However, it emerges out of a longing for security in a world that seemed to have gone out of control.

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What message does the poet want to convey through the poem, "A Prayer for My Daughter"?

In the poem 'Prayer For My daughter' by William Butler Years the poet has two main messages to convey.

His daughter's future love:

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

The poet is thinking about unrequited love here. His own sweetheart never returned his love for dozens of years. Maud Gonne - a beautiful society lady never really had to do anything except be pretty to attract attention - including Yeats misguided love. Yeats hopes his daughter will be pretty but no so much that it will ruin her personality or anyone else's life.

Political activism and a future fraught with danger:

'Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of plenty's horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?'

Yeats saw Maud Gonne as throwing her life away on a dangerous cause (Irish freedom from England) and perceives that in following it she and her friends threw out much that was good. He hopes his own daughter will attract a man from a family who still adheres to those customs and social niceties that have value in terms of keeping society civilized.

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