September 1913.

The poem “September 1913” was published first in Irish Times as entitled „Romance in Ireland” and makes a clear reference to an ideal past, which is to remain only an illusion. This was written in 1913, during a period of uncertainty of realizing the Irish nationalistic aim. During that year, 400 employers had locked out 25000 workers of their jobs. This caused a need for unionizing. Yeats expressed here his disenchantment with the patriot movement, as he saw it, by the values of the Catholic middle class, of which he was against. By using some past heroes images, he is invoking their prestige and actions in order to demonstrate the difference between their times and the current situation. The tension between the past desires and the present situation is very clear in this poem, but we must ask ourselves how manages Yeats to emphasize this problem and what is his position in the poem “September 1913”. Has he the nostalgia of the Golden Age or the voice hopes for better times in this poem? His face is nostalgic or towards the future? Has he the feeling of disappointment or expectation?

(The heroic images present in the text):

O’Leary-a leader of the Fenians and had one of the strongest influences on Yeats. O’Leary, born in Tipperary, became a Young Irelander in 1848 and joined the Fenian brotherhood, becoming editor of the Fenian newspaper Irish People. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1865, served five years of a twenty-year sentence in prison and the other fifteen in exile, in France. Yeats admired him very much and during his last ages, he thought that he was „the handsomest old man I had ever seen”.

Fitzgerald, Edward- Lord Edward Fitzgerald was an Irish patriot (1763-1798), member of the United Irishmen. He wanted to secure French help for the Irish people, was caught by English authorities and he dies because of the wounds he received.

Robert Emmet- was a great Irish patriot. He was exiled to France and when he returned to be near to his beloved one, he was captured and sentenced to be hanged. Yeats’ great-grandfather had been Robert Emmet’s friend and was suspected and imprisoned though but a few hours”.

Wolfe Tone- was a famous Irish revolutionary who sought to unite Catholics and Protestants against English opression. He worked for his cause in France and America. He was caught, tried, and sentenced to death in 1798, but he commited suicide before the sentence could be carried out.

(Conner, Lester I., A Yeats dictionary:persons and places in the poetry of William Butler Yeats, Syracuse, New York, 1998)

A.”Vanitas, vanitatum et omnia vanitas”

First of all, the poem is structured into four stanzas, each having eight-lines. The modality of the discourse is rising throughout the text, culminating at the end of it. The direct appellation in “you” (line 2) is to the Catholic middle-class. Yeats was against their actions regarding the nationalistic movement. In this case, by using this pronoun, the reader is put into the realm of the situation and hears a highly tragically-voice, which always wants, like in the Greek tragedies, vengeance. It is the same similar case like in the cry of Electra from Sophocles or Eurypides “Electra”. We might tend to say that Yeats has the nostalgia of the early century, considering the following lines in the poem. The image of „greasy till” can be a continuation of the lamentation from the first verse. The metaphor comes from an early reference, from a speech the poet made in July 1913, when he describes Ireland as a failed project, as a „little greasy huxtering nation”. This lamentation can classify the text into those that summon a past nostalgia, like the Ecclesiast, Hesiod’s Theomachia, some Indian epics or some Baroque themes and paintings. If in the previous mentioned works, a better past moral situation was being painted, in our poem we have another type of invocation.
On the other hand, the tone is sometimes ironical, like in the first line or in the 6th line („For men were born to pray and save”). If the poet would want only to glorify the past situation, he would not use a sort of language like in this situation, even if he would compare the nothingness of the present contrasting with the future actions. He then uses the line "dried the marrow from the bone”. This is symbolism for the Sellers taking away the courage out of Ireland because all they care about is money.
The phrase is constructed in a very complex manner with many subordinate clauses (line 1- ”what need you,) as long as five lines in each stanza. This may suggest the direct implication of the poet and his need of constructing a political discourse, with many syntactic constructions. This type of speech is recurrent in the political field.

B.The image of the past heroes.

We can ask ourselves why the poet uses the figures of the great Irish warriors in this text. Should the reader from 1913 take an example from their eroic actions or their signification is deeper in our poem? Without doubt, the most proeminent figure is that of O’Leary, present in each stanza, in the last verse. In the first three stanzas, the structure is repetitive: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,/It’s with O’Leary in the grave” and in the last two lines, to this structure it is given a more dramatic meaning: “But let them be, they’re dead and gone,/They’re with O’Leary in the grave”. The key to interpreting their role lays in the second stanza (lines 9-10). The pronoun “they” manages to comprise all the personalities under one word and the main attribution of the heroes is that they “were different”. This can be an aspect of the nostalgia of a Golden Age. The evocative image of the “the names that stilled your childish play” could be interpred as the influential memory of the four Irish partisans.
The feeling of sadness and the incapacity in front of history reaches the climax in the third stanza, by summoning the old heroes. This is a recurrent theme for the Romantic period, when poets from all Europe use the names of those who fought for the liberation of the nations. In this context, the situation is different. The anaphor and the repetition of the conjunction “and” being present in lines 19-20 may suggest an ascending implication, with a great implication from the poet: “For this that all that blood was shed,/ For this Edward Fitzgerald died,/And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone”. The image of “wild geese” make reference to the Irishmen who served abroad in the armies of France, Spain and Austria, largely as a result of the Penal Laws passed after 1691. We can make a parallel between this metaphor and the historic context: in that period many Irish were emigrating due to harsh circumstances. The image of O’Leary is very important in this poem because gives a clear historical and biographical reference. This national hero belonged to Yeats’s romantic conception of Irish nationality. The spatial reference “in the grave” makes reference to the funeral of O’Leary, where the poet could not attend. His death in 1907 seemed to be the last link with the Romantic ideals of 1848.

C.The invocation of the divinity vs. the religion of liberty

In the first stanza, we have a more religious field, Yeats using words or phrase like : “add the halfpence to the pence”, “prayer to shivering prayer”, “men were born to pray and save”. The last image is taken directly from the Medieval canonical principle that should follow everyman: “ora et labora”.
The irony is continued throughout the poem, as in line 6 („For men were born to pray and save”). The tone is totally changed in the last two verses of the each stanzas, sounding as a repetition which wants to call for the regret of the poet for his ideal being totally lost: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,/ It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”. The inversion in line 12 (“little time they had to pray”) gives speed when reciting the poem. On the other hand, the meter of this verse is shorter than the rest from the stanza, becoming clearly very distinctive. This can be an allusion to the act of praying or the uselessness of it in the context of the clear situation. The short length of this verse may also suggest the sacrifice of the heroes.
The interrogation “And what, God help us, could they save?” (l.15) follows the same idea of desolation, of the thought that the idea of nationalism was in vain. Also, by using the sentence ”God save us”, this poem gains a distinctive sign of orality. A problematic use is that of the word ”delirium”. Norman Jeffares in ”A Commentary on the collected poems of W.B.Yeats” insists on the fact that this word was not used in Yeats’s poetry only for two times, in this poem and in “The Tower”. This use makes a clear reference to an occult or pagan power, clearly being in contrast with the dogmatic, orthodox point of view.
The use of the word “delirium” is to emphasize the contrast of his heroes with the uncultured excitement of his own times, using Swinburne’s word to act the old and belittle the new Ireland. This word appears only once elsewhere in Yeats’ work (in “The Tower”) and might be recalling of the state of trance of the Celtic or Scandinavian warriors (called berserker) that enabled them to suffer the most wounds without noticing them. In this context, it suggests that the word bravery involves in his meaning also the signification of madness.The solution that Yeats is giving in this poem that of a national divinity, making a syncretism between the Christian and pagan mythology.
In conclusion, we can observe that this poem tries to mingle the Christian point of view from a Protestant vision, mingled with some of pagan or mystic sources and deals with the theme as old as the world of the evanescent time. In ‘September 1913’ Yeats expressed his disenchantment with the nationalist movement, dominated, as he saw it, by the values of the Catholic middle classes, believing that ‘men were born to pray and save’ and “add the halfpence to the pence/And prayer to shivering prayer”. The refrain was somehow denied by the historical facts. In other words, the Romantic Ireland was after the First World War not a “dead and gone” country, but existing and demanding for its recognition worldwide. Yeats in this poem is like Janus, the Greek mythological figure: with one face looking to the past and with the other to the future.

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