The poem is organised into four rhetorical questions in lines 5, 10, 11, 12. A rhetorical question is a question in which the answer is implied and therefore doesn't demand an answer. It is used here by Yeats as a means of coming to terms with the reality of his relationship with Maud Gonne. The opening statement of the poem "Why should I blame her that she filled my days with misery" can interpreted as a disclaimer or as absolution for Maud Gonne. Yeats recognises that Maud Gonne's character made her act the manner in which she did, though this resulted in misery for him, there was little blame that he could attach to her.
The second statement "or that she would of late have taught to ignorant men most violent ways" contains both praise and criticism of Maud Gonne. The men who supported her are described by Yeats as ignorant by comparison with her intelligence, but Yeats does not support the use of violence, he fears that she will be responsible for a revolution, which would pitch Ireland against the might of the British Empire - "Or hurled the little streets upon the great". The use of the word "hurled" contains another criticism of Irish Nationalists who because of a shortage of weapons, drilled with hurley sticks and Yeats saw Maud Gonne leading those hurley-wielding men into battle with the British Army. The rhetorical question is completed as Yeats asks "had they but courage equal to desire?" suggesting that these "ignorant men", unlike Maud Gonne, lacked the courage to rise up. This is why Yeats was particularly surprised by the 1916 Rising and later in his poem "Easter 1916" paid tribute to the bravery of those men.
The second rhetorical question provides Yeats an explanation of the character of Maud Gonne. She is described in terms of classical beauty, in a series of warlike metaphors and similes. In lines 6 - 10, the poet attempts to understand the mind of Maud Gonne. He describes it as being noble with the simplicity of fire, a simile designed to explain her temperament. The tautness of her features is described as a tightened bow, conjuring up images of:
a) Skin stretched over perfectly formed cheekbones.
b) A face that could straight away erupt in a barrage of warlike language.
This epic is, in the words of Yeats, "not natural in an age like this" but what is more in keeping with Classical Greece or Rome therefore the implied comparison of Helen of Troy. The stern haughty demeanor of Maud Gonne is, in Yeats' opinion, consistent with her character. In line 11, he asks another question by way of explanation "Why, what could she have done being what she is?". In this line Yeats has come to terms with Maud Gonne, has convinced himself that the character she possessed could only have resulted in the actions she carried out.
The poem concludes with the final rhetorical question and the warning of an apocalyptic future, "Was there another Troy for her to burn" - was Maud Gonne's fiery brand of Nationalism and the attractions she held for men to be responsible for a revolution which would leave the city of Dublin in flames?
The poem represents a period in Yeats' career when he was finding it difficult to come to terms with his own unrequited love for Maud Gonne. This allows him to be extremely critical of her involvement in Nationalist politics because it distracted her from his attention and because he believed that the men involved with her were unworthy of her. The poem was written in 1912 and the rising which indeed took place in 1916 taught Yeats a salutary lesson.
1.) His main theme is that he is trying to come to terms with the fact that Maud Gonne did not love him like a lover but rather like a friend. He is forgiving her, although she did nothing, for being so beautiful that he could not fail to love her. Yeats, realising he was silly to love, wrote her a poem which describes her as a leader of simply men unworthy of her: "Had they but courage equal to desire?" which Yeats believe they didn't possess because he believed them to be "ignorant men".
He describes her beauty and features in this poem comparing her to Helen: "Was there another Troy for her to burn?". His other references to her features were:
"With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this" describes the beauty but war-like side to her with the description of a "tightened bow".
"Or hurled the little streets upon the great" - Yeats believed that Maud Gonne would lead a revolution by leading Ireland (little streets) against the great nations (Britain).
"nobleness made simple as a fire" - gave her an image of a quiet outer person with a burning passion for Nationalism and the pursuit of Nationalism.
2.) Yeats rhymes at the end of every second sentence:
"Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways
Or hurled the little streets upon the great".
All of these rhyming words are all the same in saying except for the last three lines:
"Being and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?"
The rhyming of stern and burn is the only failure in this piece of Yeats rhyme scheme.
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