A Prayer for My Daughter

by William Butler Yeats

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Why is W. B. Yeats sad about his daughter's birth in "A Prayer for My Daughter"?

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W. B. Yeats is so sad about the birth of his daughter in "A Prayer for My Daughter" because he knows that there will be many obstacles in her life that she will have to face. For one thing, she will need to find a good husband who will bring her to an aristocratic house "Where all's accustomed, ceremonious."

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As Yeats gazes at his newborn daughter, he cannot help but think of all the many challenges she will face in her life. Under the circumstances, then, it is no surprise that he is so worried about what the future may hold for her.

In particular, he is concerned that his daughter might turn out like his former lover Maude Gonne, whose beauty was matched only by what Yeats regarded as her political extremism. Yes, the poet wants his daughter to be beautiful, but at the same time, he hopes that she won't come to harbor the "intellectual hatred" of Maude Gonne, whose brand of revolutionary nationalism was not to Yeats's liking.

And Yeats most certainly doesn't want his daughter to enter in the same kind of marriage as Maude, who, after rejecting numerous offers of marriage from Yeats, ended up getting married to a man the poet elsewhere describes as a “drunken, vainglorious lout.” Yeats would much rather his daughter be married off to some member of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, the Protestant ruling elite of Ireland that Yeats so much admired and venerated.

This is what he means in the tenth stanza, where he expresses the hope that his future son-in-law will bring his bride to "a house / Where all's accustomed, ceremonious." Yeats wants his daughter to marry into a good family, but because that's by no means a foregone conclusion, especially when one considers what happened to Maude Gonne, he cannot help but be worried about the future might bring.

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