An Irish Airman Forsees His Death – W.B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats, an Irishman, a poet and one of the foremost figures of Twentieth Century Literature, served as an Irish senator for two terms, founded The Abbey Theatre and served as its chief during its formative years. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as the first Irishman so honored, for “inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.” He died in France in 1939 and was buried in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. In 1948, his body was removed to Drumcliff in County Sligo. The epitaph on his grave stone is taken from one of his final poems:

“Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horsemen, pass by!”

During The Great War, when men still had visions of glory, Yeats composed this poem…

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,
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 tummult 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.

24 thoughts on “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death – W.B. Yeats

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