William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), the celebrated Irish poet, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, needs no introduction. The Irish identity was very strong in him and as an active member of the Irish National Revival, he tried his best to add Celtic legends to evoke the glorious past of his land. In a time when the world was much fragmented, he endeavored to create a unified perspective of things that is cohesive and all encompassing. The poem is an intense expression of how Yeats felt after his daughter Anne was born although the ideas conveyed go far beyond the personal.
Theme of the Poem
The poem portrays how a father, who has been blessed with a daughter, prays for the future happiness and welfare of her. The poet hopes that instead of growing up to be a very beautiful woman, his daughter should be blessed with the attributes of a virtuous and great soul. She should be well-mannered and full of humility rather than being strongly opinionated, to avoid intellectual detestation because that can drown her in misery.
In the beginning, Yeats talks about the storm having commenced brewing in the seas. Between his newly born daughter and the sea, there stand a bare hill and Gregory’s woods which might not thwart the storm from reaching the helpless infant. The father is naturally worried as he senses the gale striking the tower and the undersides of the bridges. To his mind, the storm presages the future of her daughter having arrived with a rage, mounting from the seeming innocence of the sea. As a father, the poet wishes beauty for her daughter but not such voluptuousness that would engross others to distraction or make her vain.
He does not want her daughter to be bereft of kindness nor does he want her to fail in choosing the persons with whom she will be friendly. The father shudders at the thought of her daughter’s turning to be another Helen of Troy, who couldn’t help being unfaithful as she was so beautiful. Some lovely women like the queen who had not had her father imposing useful restraints upon her, chose an ordinary smith with warped legs, instead of marrying a handsome yet virtuous man matching her handsome looks and social standing. It is strange how exquisitely beautiful women often choose ‘a crazy salad’ (an undeserving husband) to go ‘with their meat’ (rich food or their great beauty).
His daughter should realize that she should be deserving of winning human hearts. She should not be like those crafty women who employ their charms to use people to their advantage. It is true that men fall head over heels for stunning females but it is really the compassion of the women which they get enamored by in the end. The father in the poet is keen that her daughter should be like a tree giving succour and shade to people when she grows up and her feelings should be like the sweet song of the linnet that spreads joy for the sake of doing so. It is very likely that she will sometime desire something intensely in a wrong spirit or engage in some strife at times but let them be transient and not very serious. Let her be like an evergreen tree; let her send her roots into the depth of her good convictions standing at the same place.
The poet is rueful that his running after the people he liked or the kind of gorgeousness that he was infatuated with, could not satiate him as he wanted and that he is weary of all the barrenness that has enveloped him now. He seems to get momentarily confused as to what could be the right sort of beauty. He has however no hatred toward anyone as he is absolutely sure that it is the worst kind of malevolence that could poison his life. He wants her daughter also to learn this truth before she allows her to be ruled by the negative force of hatred because such a mindset will save her from inviting harsh criticism or abuses being showered upon her. The poet would not like her daughter to be self-opinionated as that could lead her to practising intellectual loathing which the poet considers to be the worst kind of malady in a human being.
He recollects coming in close contact with a beautiful and accomplished woman who had to give away everything by being strongly biased. The truth rings clearly in the poet’s mind that by removing all hatred from one’s mind, the soul not only regains its innocence but also embarks on the journey of delighting in itself. Since the spirit of the soul is the will of God, he fervently prays that his daughter should be able to discover her soul and be happy in the face of any storm or disapproval. And finally, as a father, he hopes that she will be betrothed to a man who has for ever steered away from detestation and arrogance which is so common everywhere. Let the house of her husband be comfortable and secure but not at the expense of anyone.
©SOMNATH MITRA 2010