A Prayer for My Daughter

by William Butler Yeats

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What virtues does the poet wish for his daughter in "A Prayer for My Daughter"?

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The poem “A Prayer for My Daughter," by William Butler Yeats, deals with a father’s wishes for his daughter. It is written from the poet’s perspective; he is worried about his daughter and the person she may or may not turn out to be in years to come: “I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour.” He wants her to grow up and develop certain virtues in order to have a good life.

For example, he prays that she will be blessed with modesty: although he wants her to be beautiful, he wants her only to become beautiful to the extent that she can still remain modest enough to not become too obsessed with her own beauty. He doesn’t want her to be so beautiful as to “make a stranger’s eye distraught / Or hers before a looking-glass”, as he knows that if she is not modest enough, she will lose her “natural kindness” and will struggle to “find a friend.”

The poet also wants his daughter to be courteous in order to be able to find love: “Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned.”

Placidity is also important to the poet, as he hopes that being calm and at peace, as opposed to being filled with hatred, will provide his daughter with protection against life's challenges: “If there’s no hatred in a mind... / Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.”

Toward the end of the poem, the poet also stresses that he would like his daughter to be open-minded, rather than opinionated: “An intellectual hatred is the worst / So let her think opinions are accursed.” Rather than being expectant of others, he prays that his daughter will learn to be at ease with herself, so she can be “self-delighting, self-appeasing, self-affrighting,” independent of others.

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