The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Tower” is a lyric of 195 lines, divided into three parts. The title refers to an ancient stone tower in western Ireland, called Thoor Ballylee, which William Butler Yeats purchased in 1915. It provides the setting for the speaker, the poet, who refers to his movements through the tower to its top, whence he looks across the landscape to contemplate life and history.

Section 1 begins with the poet asking how to deal with old age. Perhaps he will give up poetry and turn to Platonic philosophy to tame his imagination of its wild desire for sensation. If he does not do something, imagination will mock his helpless old age.

In Section 2, the poet has climbed to the top of his tower, where he views the landscape. In evening twilight, he ponders the history and folklore of this region. He imagines the life of Mrs. French, who once lived nearby, whose servant brought her the ears of a farmer who had insulted her. More remarkable is the story of a beautiful woman who also lived nearby, and whose beauty was the subject of a popular song. Some men went looking for the woman of the song and one of them drowned in a bog. The man who made that song was blind, like Homer; neither saw the women whose beauty they celebrated. The poet wishes he could make poems with the power to drive men mad.

The poet recalls a figure of his own creation, Hanrahan, the hero of stories Yeats published in earlier years. Hanrahan was tricked into giving up his search for his fiancée; while playing cards, Hanrahan thought the cards turned into hounds chasing a rabbit. He pursued the hounds toward something the poet cannot remember. Instead, the poet thinks of the bankrupt man who once owned...

(The entire section is 696 words.)