Notes on the poem "Easter Week" - Finbarr O'Regan

 “I met them at close of day …” they could be just anyone from any capitol, London, Paris, Dublin  - just ordinary people –– but later “them” are the four persons who will stand out of the crowd of a diverse motley crew of Dubliners.

"All changed / A terrible beauty is born” - The change was the Easter Rising of circa 1000 republicans who wanted independence from Great Britain. The “terrible beauty” was “born” during Holy Week the occasion of Christ’s sacrifice – crucifixion and resurrection. The rising, which did not enjoy wide support amongst the Irish people, was put down within a week but when the leaders were quickly and brutally executed, (crucifixion) the general public turned anti-British and returned a majority of Sinn Fein members to the parliament in the next general election (resurrection).

“That woman” – was Constance Gore-Booth Markievicz. Yeats chastised her for the shrillness – “… in argument until her voice grew shrill”. “This man” was Patrick Pearse, poet and leader of the Rising, “his helper and friend” was another poet Thomas MacDonagh, and Yeats thought that they would be better off as teachers and writers. “The drunken lout” was John MacBride, Maud Gonne’s former abusive husband. (Maud Gonne’s beauty attracted Yeats while her “fanaticism” repelled him in equal measures).

In the third verse the, idyllic landscape changes when the stone of the revolution is thrown into the peaceful pond – “to trouble the living stream” it changes the flow of British politics.

Yeats wonders if the sacrifice is worthwhile. He asks three questions!

“O when may it suffice?” -  When will the sacrifice end? In order to have constant peace more sacrifice may be needed!

“… Was it needless death after all?” – He wonders if this Easter sacrifice may have been needless as there is a promise to restore the suspended Home Rule Bill

“… And what if excess of love bewilder them till they die?”-  Here Yeats asks whether “excess of love” for country can hound one to one’s death, reducing honour and glory to mere bewilderment.

Throughout the poem Yeats sketches the characters without naming them but as a climax at the end he chants the names of the four, who for him stand out from the motley crew of Dubliners, MacDonagh, MacBride, Connolly and Pearse who will be always remembered!

Easter Week by William Butler Yeats


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