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W.B. Yeats Poetry Analysis

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Essay title: W.B. Yeats Poetry Analysis

Pete Benck

Pd. 5

AP Lit


Among School Children

In “Among School Children”, Yeats speaks to an upcoming generation that is too preoccupied with preparation. The philosophy of this work suggests that life prepares us for what never happens. Consistent with Yeats’ message in other works, it follows the dogma: ignorance brings innocence, whereas knowledge brings chaos. With acquired wisdom, consciousness produces a chaotic state within the individual, causing conflict within the soul and mind. Yeats’ main focus is ignorant bliss in this poetic reflection of archetypal adolescence.

Consciousness is limited to the realms of experience. Within this experience we may understand individualities of love, death and camaraderie. Consciousness is the awareness of one's surroundings and identity; the awareness of universal concepts and the relation this plays upon the individual. Yeats believed that throughout an individual’s life there were certain icons and memories which remained constant, turning in what he symbolized with a gyre or a downward spiral. This spiral denotes life veering towards a state of anarchy. Yeats uses this gyre not as an ominous message of death, but as a life experience to be handled by the individual. If one neglects this knowledge, one has not been enlightened and so remains much like the school children Yeats views in the poem. If one learns from the spiral, he is a knowledgeable man. It is apparent that among the school children there is an air of beauty which surrounds them. This beauty which Yeats views is derived from their innocence. It would seem that innocence is freedom to follow the divine will. Innocence becomes beauty and consciousness becomes mere confusion.

Yeats is constantly using forms of innocence which may be considered the opposing factor to forms of consciousness. If consciousness is understanding in a universal sense, then innocence would be unable to interpret this wisdom. He displays the children, a mother, a nun and his wife throughout the piece, using them as monuments of innocence. These images of innocence give us intense pictures of purity and are representative of moral order.

Yeats begins his piece in the classroom. As he walks through the pairs of puzzled young faces he is told by their teacher that they learn to read, sing and sew. These common classroom activities are what we are taught. They are "neat in everything / in the best modern way" (lines 5-6), and in relation to his final two lines in the piece, this is one of the only ways in which we know how to dance. These teachings have been passed down by generations in hope of increasing our knowledge into an eternal state of bliss and beauty. Another philosophical concept is aroused here. What constitutes eternal bliss? Is it knowledge and reason, or innocence and ignorance? Indeed, within Yeats’ prospective standpoint, it is the latter. As he tours the classroom with his eyes he sees beauty in these children who view life simplistically. This cosmology is consistent with "A Prayer for My Daughter", where 'arrogance and hatred' (line 25) become the articles for humanities vending store of consciousness and the two forms of 'ignorance', innocence and beauty are vanquished. The tree which becomes symbolic towards the transgression of innocence at the end of this prayer is indeed another play on the eternal gyres of life. The linnet will never be shaken from the tree if the mind does not turn sour: 'If there's no hatred in a mind' (line 54). Therefore Evil brought about by consciousness becomes the degradation of the enlightened mind, a never ending thirst which 'dries up' (line 51) the mind. Innocence is ignorant of evil and is a lack of confusion. Therefore, innocence retains a natural order which is the bliss seen in the classroom.

In the second stanza, Yeats dreams of the image of his lover who becomes a theme of innocence he may relate to throughout his life. The image he produces is a fresco of beauty above evil. The Ledaean body bent over the inferno of hell, 'a sinking fire' (line 10) is a complex painting of order giving way to disorder, where a 'childish day' turns into 'tragedy' (line 12). Innocence is turned towards consciousness, leading to destruction.

Yeats uses an ominous point of view to much of his advantage throughout the poem.

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