Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen is one of the powerful poems of William Butler Yeats, precisely painting the picture of the Irish Civil War which took place during the twentieth century. Yeats wrote a few poems which had violence as a theme. Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen is one of them. It not only depicts the situation of Yeats’ time but also the violence in general. The poem comments on the horrors of the war and the degradation of human nature.
Summary of Section 1:
The poem begins with the lines, ‘Many ingenious lovely things are gone.’ The poet talks about the well-made lovely things which were protected and were nothing than a miracle as far as the common masses were concerned. But those objects are gone. There was an ancient image made from olive tree and it stood against the ornamental bronze stone statues. It was gone. Moreover, the famous ivories of Phidias and the golden grasshoppers are gone too.
The poet talks about the toys that they had when they were young and the ownership of such toys cannot changed by blame, praise, threats or bribing. Habits made old wrong melt down in the same way as wax melts down by Sun’s ray. The poet and the common people used to think that the worst rogues and rascals died out but what is happening then is much greater than those rogues.
The poet talks about a time when all the things that could cause harm and bite were taken away and all old tricks forgotten. And then Parliament and the King started to think that some gunpowder must be used. They were also aware of the fact that if this would go on for doing away with war goes on, a state may come when even the guardsmen’s horses would stop dancing and swinging on their hind legs.
In this stanza, the poet describes the current state. The situation has turned reverse. Days are dragon-ridden which means there is no peace. Nightmares dominate sleep. Drunken soldiers are getting away without punishment even after murdering a mother and leaving her in cold blood at her own door. The nights are full of terror and people are trembling with fear. The poet compares themselves with a weasel. Just like weasels, they are fighting in a hole and yet trying to think as per the world. They were trying to give the situation a philosophic thought while all that were happening then.
For the person who is sinking in the face of all this of falling in the trap of intoxications of witticism, there is only one comfort left. This comfort is that all triumph would leave his solitude untouched. Such a person knows that whether a work is a master-piece of intellect or of the hands it cannot stand howsoever much of health, wealth or peace of mind has been used.
The poet lights a hope. There is still one comfort one can be assured of and that is love. Love is one thing man considers a comfort but what man loves vanishes. What more can be said? All around the country people burn public properties; these incendiary people are capable of burning the statues of Acropolis, of breaking the famous art pieces of ivory or the grasshoppers, etc.
The Platonic year whirls out new right and wrong and in its place old right and wrong. It is like a floating ribbon of cloth which looked like a shining web falling upon Luie Fullers Chinese dancers like a draught of air and hurrying the dancers off on its own path. Today all the men are helpless as the dancers and their walk is controlled by the barbarous noise of a gong. (gong of war)
The poet talks about a moralist or a mythological poet who has compared the soul to a swan. The state of the swan before it dies is that its wings are half spread for flight and its breasts is thrust out in pride either to play or ride those winds which give indications of the approaching death.
The poet talks about a man who is in a labyrinth of his own creation in art or politics and this leads him in meditation. Some Platonists say that when the soul is about to leave the body, some of the old habits stick so deep that the danger of destroying the solitude of our soul after death.
The vision of the swan that is the soul leaping into the desolate heaven can bring wildness and even rage which can end everything, even the life that the poet has imagined. This rage can even end the half-imagined and the half-written page. Most of the dreams were directed at mending or improving every mischief that seems to afflict mankind.
Seven years ago, we talked of honor and truth but today we are shrieking with pleasure by showing the weasel’s twist (unreliability) and the weasel’s tooth (cruelty).
( Yeats now invites the readers to mock at everything)
Yeats asks his readers to mock those great people who toil really hard and for long hours to leave some good job behind. This toiling had placed a burden on their minds and the only trouble is that these people never thought of the wind that levels every aspect and achievement.
The poet then mocks the wise men who fixed their aching eyes at calendars yet those people could never really how seasons run. All they can is to gape at the sun.
The poet then mocks those who went in for goodness in the hope that there may be some gaiety in goodness. They believed that goodness may mean some kind of escaping from things but the winds soon changed and they were nowhere to be found.
In the fifteenth stanza the poet mocks the mockers too because the mockers have not lift a hand to help the wise and the great people.
The final stanza is about violence. The poet says that all around there is violence. There is violence on the roads, there is violence of horses. The horses are unable to escape the running round and round in his course. These makes the horses break and vanish. Evil is around and has gathered force and momentum. It seemed as if Herodias’ daughters (they stand for cruelty) have made a comeback. There us then a sudden blast of dusty wind and is followed by a tumult of images. In such a state if a crazy person touches a daughter; there will be noise of angry cries from all. As this happen, one can see Robert Artisson, that fourteenth century fiend staggering. Robert Artisson is without ant thought and is stupid looking locks brought by Lady Kyteler are pale and look like straws.
The most remarkable thing about Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen is its architectonic quality. Another is the manipulation of symbols and images. The striking images at the last section of Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen contribute to the final effect of the poem. Another notable thing is the powerful and passionate syntax.