W.B. Yeats Poems and Post-Colonial Reading. September 1913, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen and Easter 1916

Essay, 2021

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Applying three selected concepts of post-colonial reading in W. B. Yeats' poems: September 1913, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen and Easter 1916

Submitted by: Mohammed Salah Abbood


Post-colonial theory is a typical study in literature. It tries to depict the entire world and its relations. Many philosophers are associated with this issue. For example, Edward Said and Homi Bhabha .. etc. Looking for Bhabha's extension in this study, he is fixed with several issues depicting them as a means of post-colonial reading. This paper is to explore Bhabha's selected concepts: nationalism, hybridity and ambivalence. These concepts will apply to W.B.Yeats' September 1913, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen and Easter 1916. Yeats is a good choice to be associated with post-colonial study. He tries to focus on the traditions and living of Ireland. He props the Irish independent. Moreover, he has extended with political and social issues. His views are colonial and sympathetic conducts. For September 1913: it depicts the destruction and death of Irelands' ideals in terms of national identity. It also reflects that Irish people pay attention to themselves only, not to their land. People miss their national identity. They are not able to retrieve the beliefs and values of their country. In 'Easter 1916': people are rebellious against the British tyranny. They want to release the freedom and independence of Ireland. Once again, the poet is ambivalent towards the national identity of Ireland. In Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen: Yeats conflicts with two sides. He is in between 'colonizer and colonized'. He is a hybrid and ambivalent. Uncertainly, he does not know which side he belongs to. Finally, the three concepts play an essential role in Irish society. People are ambivalent and hybrid, and then the others are seeking about the national identity of Ireland.


Like many other poets, it is essential to be talked about William Butler Yeats. Yeats is an Irish poet and playwright. His works contribute to the Irish culture by constructing and reviving it through tradition and national identity. He is pretty hybrid and ambivalent about his envision in these concepts. Through reading his works, one can find that there are hybridity, ambivalence and national identity of colonialism. This paper explores these concepts in his selected poems: September 1913, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen and Easter 1916.

During his life, Yeats constantly improved his work. One of his themes in poetry is Irish nationalism. Moreover, there have always contrary concepts about his nationalism understanding. Many people regard him as one of the fabulous poets of his country. We can say that he is a spokesman for Ireland. He is the only voice in Ireland comparing who are voiceless. He is in an ambiguous situation about the political concerns between Ireland and British. Another concern is Yeats' understanding of nationalism in which he defines as a rational aspect free from violent acts. These issues cause him to be classified as a hybrid figure because he embraces two contrary beliefs.

Yeats tries to focus on the traditions and lives of Ireland. He even props as an Irish independent playwright and poet. His works are mixed with political issues. Besides, some critics regard his political views as colonialist and sympathetic conducts. Others believe him as a nationalist one whose works add resistance to Ireland's strife for independence.

This paper argues to explore Yeats' hybrid, ambivalent and national identical views of post-colonialism by reflecting in his three selected poems. And Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, depicting Anglo Irish war as a challenge between the colonizers and colonized by chatting about how it was violent Irish war in describing the clash between the nationalist and extreme. Both poems are finding and telling the struggles that happened in Ireland between 1919 and 1923. September 1913 and Eastern 1916 try to reflect the national identity and ambivalence against Irish nationalism and British colonialism.

This study focuses on Homi Bhabha's theory in terms of the association between the colonizers and colonized. This association is mirrored clearly in Yeats' struggled visions in the core, especially in these two poems. After checking Bhabha's concepts, we are going to take a look at these poems and interpret some binary resistances that express during several themes. In addition, Yeats' hybrid, ambivalence and national identity in these poems have a few analyses before.

Bhabha's post-colonial theory, The Location of Culture (1994), is genuinely resounded with Yeats' writing. Bhabha has summed up this theory in the following:

The colonial signifier-neither one nor other-is, however, an act of ambivalent signification, literally splitting the difference between the binary oppositions or polarities through which we think cultural difference. (Bhabha, 1994: 182).

Once again, Bhabha depicts this association between the two contraries as sophisticated and dynamic by influencing each other to create a new culture that reclines between them. According to him, this between is very special, and his depiction depicts the influence that Yeats achieves in these poems.

September 1913:

This poem deals with frustration, recurrently takes us with a probability of the death of Irelands' goals. In addition, it hopefully brings us for freedom. This poem portrays the destruction and death of Ireland romantically in the terms of religious issues and revival the national identity. In this poem, we have observed such disappointment and this is due to the death of Irelands' goals. It also reflects the egotism of Irish people who pay attention only to themselves, not to their country. This means that people care about their destiny, not for the fate of their land. The following stanzas are going to prop that:

What need you, being come to sense, But fumble in a greasy till And add the halfpence to the pence And prayer to shivering prayer, until You have dried the marrow from the bone? For men were born to pray and save: Romantic Ireland's dead and gone, It's with O'Leary in the grave. (Lines: 1-8)

In these lines, Yeats investigates how religion functions by attracting attention to adore of money or something guide to material things for the benefit of people. The bobbling lines demonstrate a repeated absorption with a financial wealthy, in which it destroys a yarn of Ireland' s culture that was created by men's courage with various conducts to those whom Yeats watched at the time of writing a poem. He addresses people that you do not care for your homes, as for you pay attention only for money and pray. We can note that people forget their land. In other words, they are not born to save money and pray. They recollect their responsibilities. They are assumed not to eat, sleep and work, but to preserve their land. For this deed, as there is no attention for the country, Ireland is dead, and the nationality has died.

The names that stilled your childish play, They have gone about the world like wind, And what, God help us, could they save?

It's with O'Leary in the grave. (Lines: 10-11, 14, 16)

These lines suggest that Yeats depicts men as protagonists , in which their names will be pursued in the following stanza. Yeats ridicules those traders who depend on a particular faith. He shamefully criticizes them. Those who call out under the umbrella of religion and pray without any motivation to their country are real hypocritical people because religion is the source of courage, saving, and defeating. Besides, Yeats has asked, "And what, God help us, could they save?” Unfortunately, it is a sorrowful voice. On another way, it is very whimper and blamed.

For this that all that blood was shed, For this Edward Fitzgerald died, And Robert Emmet and Wilfe Tone, All that delirium of the brave? Romantic Ireland's dead and gone, It's with O'Leary in the grave. (Lines: 19-24)

These lines suggest that Yeats tries to depict how those heroes have victimized their lives before them. They were killed and exiled by attempting to maintain the Irish beliefs. These lines contain the names of those who persecuted themselves for their land, its beauty, faith, and values. Their blood was shed in this land. This is exactly what (Bhabha, 1990:59) investigates his goal in term of nationalism. He asserts that “Even though [nationalism] as an ideology ... came out of the imperialist countries, these countries were not able to formulate their own national aspirations until the age of exploration”.

The following stanza contains the thought of retouching those men who battled for the passionate of the land. The poet addresses his own people as he told them that “could they go back to the past?

Yet could we turn the years again, But let them be, they're dead and gone, They're with O'Leary in the grave. (Lines: 25, 31-32)

Finally, we observe how the last line of each stanza has repeated. This is important to know who ‘O'Leary' is. Actually, the name has written and reminded more than once in each verse, whose death is definitely associated with passionate Ireland. We can say that all those heroes sacrifice to pursue the Irish goals, and at the same time, they were buried with 'O'Leary'. It is really a tragic victim, but at the same time, it is the red badge when we see anyone sacrifice for his land. (Kiyci, 2014:120-122)

Easter 1916:

This poem is written after the bloody action that happened in 1916. It is about a rebellion of many people filled over Dublins' streets by attempting to release freedom from the British tyranny. A large number of Irish people were collapsed and shattered. This poem has a different side which Yeats is called out the national identity of Ireland. He hopefully celebrates that national identity of Ireland. The following sections or stanzas are going to clarify that:

I have met them at close of day Coming with vivid faces Being certain that they and I But lived where motley is worn: All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born. (Lines: 1-2, 13-16)

The first line investigates how the poet is associated with people responsible for Dublin's rebellion. The pronoun ‘them' denotes the guiders of that rebellion, in which Yeats fixes names for them. However, the ' I ' pronoun is personal and identical, referring to the poet. For this point, we observe that how he interests in such an issue. He is concerned with this, his nation. He is really an ambivalent poet by concern with his land.

Moreover, he clarifies that it is outstanding and encourages when one sacrifices and dies for the benefit of his or her country. In addition, the last lines focus on the truth, in which all Irish people have shared a famous cultural and traditional identity. They are conscious of what they do for the sake of their land. In other word, people have the same ideal. They bring out together and seek to or the Irish goals from England. They are voicing for the freedom and independence of the country. It is beautiful and wondrous when a man defeats his or her national identity, but the tragic element when we lose those who fight for freedom. And it is beautiful when we see a group of people integrates for a particular point: the nation.

Hearts with one purpose alone Through summer and winter seem Enchanted to a stone. (Lines: 41-43)

It is different with these lines. The poet claims that people's hearts have been converted. Hearts become with one goal, one purpose, and one ideal and so on. They look so hard like 'stones'. With the idea of 'summer and winter', it is metaphorically connected to the nationalism of Ireland. Those seasons represent the past and present. For Yeats, he announces that he tries to retake inside the past of Irish people. The past represents the roots of Ireland. That means that Ireland has its origins, and no one may come and manipulate with these roots in the present. Moreover, the present refers to people in whom their roots back to the identity of romanticism and nature.

Bewildered them till they died?

MacDonagh and MacBride And Connolly and Pearse A terrible beauty is born. (Lines: 73, 75-76, 80)

According to these names, they show a tragic event. Their identity is collapsed by shooting. So, Yeats tries to make Ireland embracing once again. This event takes us to the bravery of the past for those men. They represent Ireland as the romantic land that is gone and dead. However, the last line is repeating more than once, so why? The answer is that Yeats wants people to think about the battles of how Ireland has struggled and suffered in order to achieve a united nationalism. We can say that joy and happiness do not come as arbitrary, but they come after a long conflict, trouble, blood, battles, sacrifice and soon. (Nofal, 2016: 78-79)

Nineteen hundred and Nineteen:

Nineteen hundred and Nineteen is a longest poem with six sections. The poem was written in a historical context called "Thoughts upon the Present State of the World". The poet himself pointed out “not philosophical but simple and passionate, a lamentation over lost peace and hope" (Meimandi, 2008: 191). There were conflicts and struggles times. There was a Russian revolution and war between the Irish and British. Yeats, in this poem, focuses on the political development in his land, 'Ireland'. He is not focusing on the context of the poem rather than on Ireland as more. Yeats makes it obvious in this poem that following two sides in the conflict: the Irish and England schedule. Within these schedules, the poet argues two extreme sides like aggressive colonialism and nationalism, including hybridity, ambivalence, and national identity. Yeats is in between, hybrid and ambivalent. He has missed the national identity for which country he belongs. His regard is for both sides, but he is incapable of identifying which side he belongs out. And this what Bhabha has called for “Third Space of enunciation” (54).

Opening the first stanza of the poem, Yeats is hybrid and ambivalent for remembering the past time and idealizing the present mess. There is a difference constantly between the past of England and Ireland as a classical one. The present time which was promised has gone. The poet points out that he is against the present chaos, and hopefully, he laments for the past time. He hopefully has a desire to go back to a marvelous that past.

Many ingenious lovely things are gone That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude, Protected from the circle of the moon That pitches common things about. (Lines, 1-4)

These lines point out to there are lovely things that a man has missed in the present time. Yeats himself hopefully wants to go back to these beautiful things. We see that the poet is fixed with an ambivalent and national crisis. He likes things that gone, destroyed and shattered. More than this, one can see the reality of the present. There is just fighting and struggling between England and Ireland. British coward sent to the Irish land in order to colonize and fight about their ambivalences. Here, we note each state is ambivalent for an own subject. People in Ireland are uncertain about their national identity; even the poet himself and the colonizers are also ambivalent towards their goals and ideals.

In the second stanza, Yeats continues to opposite the past and present. He indeed makes it easy to point out that either he belongs to the past or present. The question is, is the poet pursues one national or more. The following statement is going to reveal the ambivalence and hybridity of the poet himself:

We too had many pretty toys when young: A law indifferent to blame or praise, To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong Melt down, as it were wax in the sun's rays; Public opinion ripening for so long We thought it would outlive all future days. O what fine thought we had because we thought That the worst rogues and rascals had died out. (Lines, 9-16)

First of all, the pronoun 'we' refers to all, including Yeats himself. He is responsible for what had been happened. People criticize that marvelous past, even the poet himself; he berates himself for what happened. People are not able to achieve the qualities and laws in their country. The following lines investigate that the poet deals with two sides in the struggle: believing the violent aspect in his rank has shattered and still only good ideas. According to (Doggett, 2006: 76) asserts that “public opinion, be it British or Irish, has led to blind faith in historical progress, that which ‘made old wrong/ Melt down' and the return of that faith leads to a state of profound violence in the present”. Moreover, Yeats criticizes that 'public opinion'. It is reflected himself by shaping an artist, which has a significant role in causing the spilling of blood.

Once again, the pronoun 'we' uses more in this stanza. It investigates that both aspects are dealing equally. Yeats has hidden his national identity. We see that he is a hybrid, but he does not reveal to which part he belongs. It is an accusation that aimed at both aspects. The poet does not show any sympathy or a sense of belonging to which one he originates because it will direct the same aspect as conflict. These aspects or sides manifest that the reality of Yeats in which he is ambivalent or hybrid. This is undoubtedly what Homi Bhabha investigates in his theory as ambivalence “it describes the complex mix of attraction and repulsion that characterizes the relationship between colonizer and colonized. This relationship is ambivalence” (Bill, 2013:13). Yeats is in between. He challenges the distinction of the human race between the colonized and colonizer. He is a hybrid between the colonizer and colonized. In addition, the poet still suffers by building a dam between the past and present. Actually, the poet has failed to bridge this gap. Many reasons have created that gap. One of them is the idealistic thoughts that the poet could not be able to change his youth into reality, but at the very time, he has criticized the old beliefs that achieved the maturity of the poet as more realistic. There was conflict and struggle regardless.

Now, we are moving to a critical confrontation between the man of action and the man of contemplation. It is essential that one can see how the poet depicts the horrible sights of war, leading to aggressive fighting between the man of action and the man of contemplation. According to (Smith, 1990:44), "worst rogues and rascals” are returned in this stanza with colossal violence.

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery Can leave the mother, murdered at her door, To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free; The night can sweat with terror as before We pieced our thoughts into philosophy, And planned to bring the world under a rule, Who are but weasels fighting in a hole. (Lines, 25-32)

In these lines, Yeats describes the aggressive scenes that those men of action commit towards the English side. The poet depicts the killed mother with referring to Ella Quinn. She is an Irish woman. She is a victim, falling as a sacrifice between those fighters. Those fighters are so ambivalent. They are fighting for independence either from to British or the Irish. Once again, Yeats is so hybrid. He is in between those men. He has involved both sides with conflict for spilling of blood.

The pronoun ‘we' is more times repeated in this section. Once again, Doggett notes that: “More important the pronoun ‘we' so rarely used by Yeats, abounds in this section, suggesting no clear demarcation between Irish victim and British aggressor” (78). Yeats has blamed the colonized and colonizer as men of action. He seems to blame the men of contemplation as well in both states as English and Irish. He does not investigate anything well for those sides. He conflicts with himself in the present and the surroundings beside him. He is uncertain. His attitudes about the colonized and colonizer have created a hybrid gap between them. (Ghadiri, 2015: 8-15)


W.B. Yeats is an outstanding poet of the modern period. He has adopted both canons, like English and Irish. Obviously, Yeats is a hybrid and ambivalent towards the national identity of his country. He creates different subjects that have always attracted the reader's attention. Irish nationalism considers as a basic concept of his writing. His nationalism has reflected a hybrid and ambivalent manner. He has always been on two sides. In addition, Yeats has accepted to be an Irish man, while he never released himself from the British roots. Yeats' nationalism depicts as rational instead of political. He always fights against the violence of Ireland. Moreover, in three poems, September 1913, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen and Easter, a hybrid and ambivalent conducts towards nationalism have reflected, while still supporting his tone by creating a glorious future for his country.


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- Meimandi, M. N. (2008). "Just as strenuous a nationalist as ever’, WB Yeats and post-colonialism: tensions, ambiguities, and uncertainties (Doctoral dissertation, University of Birmingham).

- Nofal, K. H. (2016). National Identity in Yeats' Poetry. Studies in Literature and Language, 12(6), 74-80.

- Nofal, K. H. (2016). National Identity in Yeats' Poetry. Studies in Literature and Language, 12(6), 74-80.

- O'Brien, E. (2001). The Question of Ireland: Yeats, Heaney, and the Postcolonial Paradigm. And Raphael Ingelbien, “Decolonizing Ireland/England, 51-70.

- Smith, S. (1990). W.B. Yeats, A critical introduction, Maryland.

- Zwerdling, A. (1960). Yeats and the heroic ideal (Doctoral dissertation, Princeton University).


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W.B. Yeats Poems and Post-Colonial Reading. September 1913, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen and Easter 1916
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yeats, poems, post-colonial, reading, september, nineteen, hundred, easter
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Mohammed Salah Shaher (Author), 2021, W.B. Yeats Poems and Post-Colonial Reading. September 1913, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen and Easter 1916, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1031134


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