Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 340
The narrator in W.B. Yeats's "Under Ben Bulben" appears to be Yeats himself. This is an idea born out by the closing stanza in particular, in which Yeats imagines himself "laid" to rest in the churchyard at Drumcliff, where one of his ancestors was once the rector and above which Ben Bulben, the mountain, stands guard. The attitude Yeats takes in this poem is that he will be dead soon, and he is trying to pass on a baton of sorts; we can see this particularly in the fact that Yeats refers to himself in the final stanza in the third person, as if he has already dead and the speaker is recounting, from a point beyond Yeats's death, what the poet asked to have inscribed on his tombstone.
Other figures in the poem include a number of anonymous people who represent the historic poetic output of Ireland, such as the "sages" to whom Yeats commands his audience to swear allegiance and to listen. The audience Yeats is addressing seems to change slightly throughout the poem—at one point he is addressing specifically "Irish poets," those he feels will be able to take on Yeats's role as Irish bard and capture the history of Ireland, from its peasantry to its nobility, as they express their passion.
At other points, he addresses those who have heard the call of "Mitchel." Here, Yeats is referring to John Mitchel, a nineteenth century Irish nationalist who worked for the cause of an Ireland independent of the United Kingdom. At one point he sat in parliament at Westminster, but was disqualified from this seat because of his criminal convictions. Yeats uses Mitchel to illustrate a person who is both passionate and flawed.
Yeats also alludes to several famous artists who, throughout history, have incorporated their Christianity and spirituality into their work. These include Michelangelo, who painted the Sistine Chapel in Rome; and William Blake, whose poetry of the Industrial Revolution drew heavily from Blake's own religious views and preoccupations.
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