William Butler Yeats

No Second Troy by William Butler Yeats

The twelve-line poem, ‘No Second Troy,’ is addressed to Maud Gonne, who, to Yeats’s great distress, married John MacBride in 1903.

Yeats was shattered by Maud’s sudden marriage to John MacBride in the February of 1903. Maud Gonne was the Irish revolutionary whom Yeats loved but who rejected his proposals of marriage. ‘No Second Troy’ was written after the final rejection of Yeats’s love offer and sudden marriage to John MacBride, who, ironically was later made the martyr of Irish Freedom Movement by the efforts of Yeats himself. Although this marriage of Maud and MacBride resulted in a separation, two years later, it left Yeats in great distress.

No Second Troy
William Butler Yeats

Why should I blame her that she filled my daysWith misery, or that she would of lateHave taught to ignorant men most violent ways,Or hurled the little streets upon the great,Had they but courage equal to desire?What could have made her peaceful with a mindThat nobleness made simple as a fire,With beauty like a tightened bow, a kindThat is not natural in an age like this,Being high and solitary and most stern?Why, what could she have done, being what she is?Was there another Troy for her to burn?
No Second Troy by William Butler Yeats

Analysis of No Second Troy

Lines 1-5

Why should I blame her that she filled my days

With misery, or that she would of late

Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,

Or hurled the little streets upon the great,

Had they but courage equal to desire?

The above lines quoted in the question are the opening lines in ‘No Second Troy.’ Published in 1921 in the collection titled The Green Helmet and Other Poems, W.B. Yeats’s this twelve-line poem is the most celebrated poem having a combination of personal and political concerns. The poem begins on a personal plane with a rhetorical question saying that Yeats (‘I’ of the poem) should not blame her (Maud Gonne) for filling his life with misery. From here it goes to refer to and comment on the political concerns of Maud Gonne, an Irish revolutionary loved by Yeats.

The poem opens with a rhetorical question, the answer to which is implied in the question itself. The poet is unhappy that Maud Gonne has not responded to his love, but he argues that he should not blame her for filling his days with misery. He should not also blame her for teaching innocent Irish people the revolutionary methods to get freedom for the country of Ireland. The poet is scornful of the petty violence of those who would ‘hurl the little streets upon the great’, i.e., instigate the innocent people of Ireland to perpetrate violence against the British rulers, which is futile. The poet blames the revolutionary lady for hurting his love cruelly but waves that blame and is prepared to forget and forgive her. However, he fails to understand her political attitude and the revolutionary violence that the lady preached to her countrymen (Irish people) for winning the freedom of her country against the British tyranny.

This first section does not contain a great deal of imagery and instead focuses on fully explaining the initial question. However, the descriptions in the latter part of the poem are far more vivid and draw on metaphors in order to create powerful imagery.

Lines 6-12

What could have made her peaceful with a mind

That nobleness made simple as a fire,

With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind

That is not natural in an age like this,

Being high and solitary and most stern?

Why, what could she have done, being what she is?

Was there another Troy for her to burn?

In the above five concluding lines of ‘No Second Troy,’ the beautiful revolutionary lady Maud Gonne is seen in terms of destruction. Her beauty is said to be like a tightened bow. Her mind is made simple as a fire of nobleness. Simplicity is not a quality that we associate with fire. Here Yeats seems to suggest how uncompromising intensity and dedicated single-mindedness are capable of being both noble and, in terms of a practical world, naïve (foolish). The tightened bow further suggests an inherent tension in heroic beauty that necessarily results in destructiveness.

But heroic beauty cannot avoid its terrible consequence. It must not be blamed because it cannot help itself. It is not until the last line that images lock securely in their pattern. The organizing thrust is cleverly withheld. The marching suspense of the single-syllable words in the last but one (eleventh) line, with ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘what’ repeating the accumulated questions, is a brilliant piece of dramatic maneuvering. Then the Helen image strikes into the poem (in the last line). It raises the question of what the whole structure of the poem has answered. It puts everything in its pre-destined order. It is the demonstration, and an important one, of a technique that he brings to its perfection in “The Second Coming.”

The purpose of civilization is not to provide bonfires for eternal or heroic beauty. Ireland has not failed because it has not been burnt like Troy. The complete pattern of images, as well as the rhetorical control in the poem, are clearly demonstrated only when we read the last line. The poet clearly demonstrates the destructive aspect of beauty not only in personal terms, but also in national as well as mythological terms.

Personal Comments

Published in 1992 in the collection titled The Green Helment and Other Poems, the twelve-line poem, ‘No Second Troy,’ is the most celebrated, and combines personal passion with political passion. The poem happens to be one of the several poems written by Yeats about his beloved Maud Gonne. This short lyric is half criticism and half tribute to that Irish Revolutionary lady, who worked devotedly to the cause of Irish freedom struggle with her husband MacBride.

The poet also loved her and worked with her. The poem opens on a sad note that Maud Gonne rejected the poet’s love proposal and filled him with misery but then takes a turn to question her revolutionary and violent methods which she preached to the people of Ireland to free their country from British subjugation. The title of the poem, ‘No Second Troy,’ reminds the readers of the “Helen Of Troy” which was destroyed and burnt down at the end of a ten-year war. It points to the contrast between the Homeric times when there was the beautiful city of Troy and the times of “an age like this” when there is no second Troy to be destroyed and burnt down.

About William Butler Yeats

Though William Butler Yeats’s real interest was in poetry, he also penned play after play with incoherent and fanatic plots, for example; The Islands of Statues, The Seeker, Mosado, etc. But later being sick of this craze of playwriting, he began to explore theosophy, Platonism, Neo-Platonism, and Rosicrucianism. He also took interest in India Philosophy and religious thought, and so penned down a few poems with an Indian setting. Some of the major contributions made by Yeats in the world of poetry include ‘Seven Woods,’ ‘The Withering Boughs,’ ‘The Crazed Moon,’ ‘Cool Park,’The Winding Stair’ and many others.

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
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