Last updated on August 25th, 2020 at 08:00 am
“To A Shade” is one of Yeats’ most remarkable political poems and was published in the volume called “Responsibilities.” It expresses Yeats’ disgust against the Irish people who ill-treated Parnell, an Irish nationalist political leader and the founder of the Irish Parliamentary Party. His betrayal was the talk of the whole Ireland around that time.
The stanza begins with the poet addressing the ghost of Parnell. He tells Parnell about the current scenario of the city. He tells him that whether it is due to the desire to look upon his monument whose builder may not necessarily have been paid for his pains or due to a desire at the end of day to taste once again the salty breath coming from the sea at a time when instead of men, grey-colored sea-gulls keep flitting about, if at all Parnell comes to pay another visit to the town, be satisfied only with these sights and tastes and return to your grave. The poet advises the ghost to not try to revisit the people of the town because they have not yet given up their old tricks, the tricks which were responsible for frustrating not only Parnell but Hugh Lane also.
Hugh Lane is the nephew of Lady Gregory. The poet says he was also passionate and helpful just like Parnell. Hugh Lane once wanted the Dubliners to gift. The Dubliners had well acknowledged the gift and accepted it which gave the Dubliners more sublime thoughts and better emotions. The gift was a collection of French paintings which Hugh Lane wanted to gift the Dubliners only if they could manage a proper gallery to house those paintings. What Hugh Lane has been given instead of honor for his offer is that they have heaped insult upon him for the pains he took for them. All that he received from the Dubliners was disgrace. The insult mainly came from an enemy of Parnell, who was a newspaper owner. William Murphy is that enemy who is known by ‘an old foul mouth’ and earlier he had hurled abuses at Parnell, Synge and others.
The poet calls Parnell as an unquiet wandering soul and asks him to go back to his grave which would be better and safer in the tomb. He tells him to gather the cover provided by the dust at Galsnevin cemetery and keep doing that until the dust drops into his ear. The poet asks him why he wants to taste bitterness again when all in life he got only sorrows. He tells him that it isn’t the time for him to taste the salty breeze that is coming from the sea or listen at the corners. This is because the people who caused him grief are all dead but they are still trying to play tricks behind him and Hugh Lane is a fine example of it. It would be better for the ghost to return to its present dwelling, his grave.
“To A Shade” is a powerful poetic comment on the treatment of the political and cultural leaders by the Irish people in general and the Dubliners in particular. The reference to the ghost of Parnell in the first stanza, then to Hugh Lane in the second and again to Parnell in the third makes a strong circularity which adds to the appeal of the poem.
The poem mixes colloquial tone with formalism and rhetoric is used to help politicize comments in the poem. The imagery is highly remarkable as well as evocative in the poem, the poignancy in which the sorrows and ill-treatment of Parnell and Hugh Lane is vividly expressed is also noticeable.