“An Irishman Foresees His Death” was written at the request of Lady Gregory; it was intended as an epitaph for her son Robert. The poem captures the senseless death of the young men who fought in the First World War. The rhyming poem is one stanza in length and it is written in first-person perspective. The title yields to the inevitability of death, as the speaker has already conceded his demise. The poem characterizes the tragic position of the Irish in the First World War, as they were forced to fight for the United Kingdom, although the only enemies of Ireland were the British rulers who refused their nationhood. Yeats utilizes paradox to illustrate the speaker’s condition: “Those that I fight I do not hate/ Those that I guard I do not love” (3-4).
The speaker illustrates the uselessness of the war, as he is fighting for the British the outcome will have no affect on his countrymen, “Kiltartan’s poor,” Kiltartan was the village just outside Coole Park, Lady Gregory’s residence. Thus, the speaker affiliates himself with the cause of Irish patriotism instead of the First World War effort of the Commonwealth. Ironically, the speaker does not fight for the reasons soldiers usually catalog: “Nor law, nor duty bade me fight/Nor public man, nor cheering crowds”(9-10).
Similarly, to “Among the School Children,” the speaker contemplates the worth of his life, and he comes to the decision that it has been a waste of time. He analogizes his past to “a waste of breath,” that is his past has been insignificant. He speculates that his future as well, seems meaningless.
“ I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.” (13-16)
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