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An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above:
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love:
My country is Kiltartan Cross*, * a village in Ireland
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
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.
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
- 1. How does the airman feel about the cause for which he is fighting?
- 2. Why does he fight?
- 3. What patterns do you notice in the poet's choice of words and what effect do these create?
- 4. Find examples and comment on the poem's use of contrast.
Answers to 'An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
1. The airman does not really have any feelings towards the cause for which he is fighting. "Those that (he) fight (he) do not hate, Those that (he) guard (he) do not love." He fights but not because he hates the enemies particularly nor he has loyalty in his country, "Kiltartan Cross". He does not fight because of the 'law'and his'duty' Nor does he fight for the 'public men' or the 'cheering crowds'. The airman actually thinks that his fighting is meaningless as he does not have any feelings towards the cause for which he is fighting, but he thinks he would find "delight" or maybe a sense of achievement when fighting, though he realizes that fighting is a "waste of breath". Maybe he fights just because of the fate to join the war and he does feel the meaninglessness of the war but then he cant be against of the war. Therefore he just follow and be against the enemies. He actually is psychologically prepared for death and he is not afraid to face it as he thinks that it would be a glorious contribution. The airman foresees his death and introduced that he would die "among the clouds above". This suggested the idea of heaven, which he would go to after his death. And the idea of war was brought out. The airman seemed not to care whether he was fighting against people he hated or guarding those whom he loved. He thinks he is a hero of the war no matter whatever the result of the war is harsh to accept or not. In here, we could see a sense of detachment from war in him.
2. The sentence "I know that I shall meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above" shows that the man actually fights in the war because he thinks it is his destiny. He is destined to fight and to die in the war. He sounds rather detached and he fights only because he believes it is his fate. Maybe he feels that even if he is to have a normal death, he still choose to follow the fate as he may thinks that one's glorious death in war is more superior than an insiginificant normal death.
He fights because he feels a sense of loneliness. He does not have a sense of belonging to his own army or his country. As we can see "Nor law, nor duty bade me fight", he is not forced to join the army force because of the government, nor does he join the force because he hates the enemies or to protect the people. Instead, he thinks he would be able to find "delight" and a sense of achievement while fighting. He might also feel that he wants to get rid of the loneliness in his life and go searching for something different. Seen in the line "A lonley impluse of delight drove this tumult in the clouds." This may suggest that he sees himself as one of the small potatoes in that village only and so if he joins the war, he may gain some good comments through his brave acts instead of secretly escaping from the potential death by engaging in war. He also fights due to his belief of death would bring a "balance" to his meaningless life as his past and future life seem a waste to him.
3. He chooses words like "above", "end" and "death" to bring out the image and his vision of death, and he compares his life using "Drove to this tumult in the clouds." to the clouds, he indicates that he almost reaches the peak and the end of his life. He also chooses miserable dictions like “a lonely impulse of delight”, "waste", "poor", "loss" and 'lonely' to show that he knows his life is doomed, unimportant as he is living in a poor little village. He thinks fighting is aimless. Even life seems to be pointless to him as he says ' The years to come seemed waste of breath/A waste of breath the years behind/In balance with this life, this death.' In addition, there's a repitition of "nor" in "Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,Nor public men, nor cheering crowds". The word " nor" alone has a strong sound and the repitition of it emphasizes the poet's uncertainty towards his intention of fighting in a war. He rebuked every reasonable cause of fighting. He is confused and is not sure whether it is right to fight. Thus, he begins reasoning and finally reaches a conclusion that he fights because of his lonliness and the "delight" that he can get from fighting - at least there is still benefit to his little self.
4. The poet uses a lot of phrases which carry contrasting meanings, "Those I fight I do not hate" contrasts to "Those I guard I do not love". "fight" is the opposite of "guard", and it is the same with "love" and "hate". This two phrases show that he is politically self-conscious. He knows that fighting in the war does no good to Ireland: "No likely end could bring them loss", nor "leave them happier than before". Also, "The years to come seemed waste of breath" and "A waste of breath the years behind" meaning that he feels his whole life is meaningless, no matter before or after the war. For the structure, he also uses alternating end rhymes to emphasis contrast and "balance" throughout the whole poem. The use of contrast also helps to bring out his stance-- neutrality, he is neither on one side nor the other. He is alone-all by his own, feeling nothing apart from loneliness. Moreover, as seen in "The years to come seemed waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind In balance with this life, this death", he thinks that his life and his future seem a waste, and death will help to balance his life. He is rather pessimistic about life and is not afraid of death, as it will help to end his meaningless life.
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