Historical map of Ireland. Photo by WAR CHAT

Notes on "Easter 1916"

Stanza 1:
"Vivid faces" - This describes the people the narrator encounters on the streets of Ireland
"Or polite meaningless words" - Repeated twice, this line reveals the narrator's uncaring attitude towards these people.
"motley" - A colorful clown costume
"A terrible beauty is born" - Repeated three times to reinforce a powerful message, this line signifies the battle for independence between the people of Ireland and the British government. Many of those Irish rebels died for the cause.

Stanza 2:
"She rode to harriers?" - A member of the Sligo county aristocracy, Constance Markiewicz irritated Yeats because she would openly lobby for Irish independence, but she never offered any ideas to change the situation. (Abrams and Greenblatt 2380)

Stanza 3:
"This man had kept a school" - A schoolmaster, Padraic Pearse worked to restore the Gaelic language (2381)
"And rode our winged horse" - Pearse was also a poet. Yeats is describing Pegasus, the horse of the Muses. (2381)
"This other his helper and friend" - Thomas MacDonagh (2381)
"A drunken, vainglorius lout" - Major John MacBride, the ex-husband of Maud Gonne. She was a beautiful actress and violent Irish nationalist who Yeats feel madly in love with. Gonne continuely refused to marry the poet. But she married MacBride in 1903, which lasted for only two years. (2381)

Stanza 4:
"Hearts with one purpose alone" - The Irish people had been working towards a rebellion against England for years and now they will die for the cause.
"Enchanted to a stone"- Yeats chose an inanimate object in nature to represent the Irish people.
"To touble the living stream" - The stone will block the normal flow in the stream; the Irish people will no longer allow the British to govern their way of life.
"Minute by minute"- Yeats uses natural imagery to illustrate that change is a part of life.

Stanza 5:
"Too long a sacrifice" - Death is a sacrifice for a worthy cause.
"Was it needless death after all?" - The Irish people led an unsuccessful revolt. Many rebels were executed.

Stanza 6:
"To know they dreamed and are dead" - Yeats is referring to the men and women who fought for freedom
"And Connolly and Pearse" - Pearse's partner, James Connolly was executed by a firing squad like the other men mentioned in this stanza. (2382)

Back to "Easter 1916"

Abrams, M. H. & Steven Greenblatt (Ed.) (2001). The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company.

WAR CHAT: War News and History. "Easter Rebellion of 1916." 2007. Warchat Magazine. www.warchat.org