The Municipal Gallery Revisited by William Butler Yeats

The Municipal Gallery Revisited’ by William Butler Yeats is a seven stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines, known as octaves. These octaves were originally divided up and numbered by Yeats with roman numerals. They follow a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABABABCC, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. 

 

Poetic Techniques in The Municipal Gallery Revisited

Within the poem there are a number of instances in which Yeats makes use of repetition such as through assonance or consonance and alliteration. The latter occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter.  Assonance and consonance occur when a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. 

Yeats also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. A great example is in the first stanza. The last three lines all begin with “A”. Through this technique, Yeats is able to create a list within the poem. In this case, the statements build upon one another until a larger image is created, depicting Yeats’ surroundings.

 

Context of The Municipal Gallery Revisited 

In this piece, Yeats is recalls a time that he visited the The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art. The poem is filled with references to various figures in Irish history from Kevin O’Higgins, an Irish politician who served as Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for Justice, to Hugh Lane, an Irish art dealer, collector and gallery director. Lane established  The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art. The latter also alluded to in Yeats’ poem, ‘September 1913’.

 

Summary of The Municipal Gallery Revisited

‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’ by William Butler Yeats recalls a visit the poet took to a modern art museum and the paintings he saw there. 

The poem begins with the speaker broadly describing the art he saw around him. In one painting, he saw an ambush and in another, pilgrims at the waterside. There is an image of Roger Casement, one of Arthur Griffith and another of Kevin O’Higgins. Yeats has different opinions and insights into the lives of each of these men. 

He continues his walk through the gallery and sees a woman’s portrait. It is of Maude Gonne, someone he once loved. He recalls the circumstances around their meeting and then moves on again. The most important painting he comes across depicts Augusta Gregory. She was an important figure in Yeats’ life, and the death of her son Robert Gregory, inspired some of the poet’s most famous poems. Her portrait is a lovely one, but it does not show him anything about the woman he knew. This is a serious problem he has with the whole museum.

 In the seventh stanza the speaker comes upon a portrait of his friend John Synge. The sight of John, alongside Lady Augusta Gregory inspires Yeats to speak on how these three attempted to live their lives. He also tells the reader that if they want to judge him, they need to come to this museum and look upon the faces of his friends. Yeats judges himself based off of their goodness. They are where his glory begins and ends.

 

Analysis of The Municipal Gallery Revisited 

Stanza One 

Around me the images of thirty years:

An ambush; pilgrims at the water-side;

Casement upon trial, half hidden by the bars,

Guarded; Griffith staring in hysterical pride;

Kevin O’ Higgins’ countenance that wears

A gentle questioning look that cannot hide

A soul incapable of remorse or rest;

A revolutionary soldier kneeling to be blessed;

In the first stanza of ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’the speaker begins by broadly describing what he sees around him. Without the title, the variety of images which bombard the reader in this first stanza might seem quite confusing. But, with the title, a reader is made aware that these are images, and pieces of history, that belong in a specific museum. The museum is in Ireland, and therefore the history depicted in the paintings is Irish. In fact, the speaker says that the paintings depict thirty years of Irish history.

 In one painting, he can see an ambush occurring and in another there are pilgrims at the waterside.  One historical figure is referenced in the third line. Roger Casement, who is standing trial, “half hidden by the bars.” Casement had been arrested for the efforts in the 1916 Easter Rising that sought to gain Irish independence. Yeats also wrote a poem about the uprising which can be read here. He was arrested, tried, convicted and eventually executed for high treason. Another, Arthur Griffith who founded the party Sinn Féin was staring on in “hysterical pride.” 

The last historical figure mentioned in this section of the poem is Kevin O’Higgins. As stated above, he was a politician who served as Minister for Justice. He is depicted in the gallery, wearing a “countenance” that spoke to his inner being. The speaker believes that he is questioning his soul, and that it is in incapable of remorse or rest. 

Last in this stanza, Yeats mentions a “revolutionary soldier” who is “kneeling to be blessed”. These images are poignant, they speak to a long history of Irish rebellion and suppression, death and British rule. 

 

Stanza Two 

An Abbot or Archbishop with an upraised hand

Blessing the Tricolour. ‘This is not,’ I say,

‘The dead Ireland of my youth, but an Ireland

The poets have imagined, terrible and gay.’

Before a woman’s portrait suddenly I stand,

Beautiful and gentle in her Venetian way.

I met her all but fifty years ago

For twenty minutes in some studio.

In the second stanza of ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’ the speaker opens by describing an “Abbot or Archbishop” who is blessing the tricolour flag of Ireland, with his “upraised hand”. This speaker has serious issues with the images he has seen so far. He says aloud, that “‘this is not…/  The dead Ireland of [his] youth, but in Ireland / the poets have imagined, terrible and gay’”. He sees these depictions as fictions, they do not speak to the truth that he knows.

Yeats then moves on to a woman’s portrait, she is beautiful and gentle “in her Venetian way”. This is a reference to her origins, as someone Italian, specifically coming from Venice. The speaker recalls how he came across this woman for “20 minutes” in a studio fifty years ago. From details of his life, it is known that this was someone he once loved, named Maude Gonne. 

 

Stanza Three 

Heart-smitten with emotion I Sink down,

My heart recovering with covered eyes;

Wherever I had looked I had looked upon

My permanent or impermanent images:

Augusta Gregory’s son; her sister’s son,

Hugh Lane, ‘onlie begetter’ of all these;

Hazel Lavery living and dying, that tale

As though some ballad-singer had sung it all;

Yeats is moved by the sight of this woman in the gallery. He sinks down, and is overcome with emotion. While he covers his eyes, try not to look at the painting, his heart attempts to recover itself. All around him there are moments from Irish history, many of them include images of people and places that he knows very well. Another example, is Hugh Lane, the man responsible for putting together the collection in The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art.

Yeats also speaks about Augusta Gregory. She was an important figure in his life, and the death of her son inspired some of its most famous poems. These include ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’ andIn Memory of Major Robert Gregory’.

Last in the third stanza, Yeats mentions Hazel Lavery, who was a painter and wife to portrait artist Sir John Lavery. Her life and death is depicted in a museum “as though some ballad singer has sung at all”. 

 

Stanza Four 

Mancini’s portrait of Augusta Gregory,

‘Greatest since Rembrandt,’ according to John Synge;

A great ebullient portrait certainly;

But where is the brush that could show anything

Of all that pride and that humility?

And I am in despair that time may bring

Approved patterns of women or of men

But not that selfsame excellence again.

In the fourth stanza of ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’ the speaker comes back around to Augusta Gregory. She is depicted in a portrait by the painter Mancini. Another friend of Yeats’ who, John Synge (mentioned in the poem ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregoryas well), said was “the greatest since Rembrandt”. 

Yeats accepts that the portrait is a lovely one, but it does not show him anything about the woman he knew. None of her pride nor her humility are depicted. In the final lines of the stanza, Yeats worries that with time, those who actually knew these people will be gone, and all that will be left are these depictions. They are “approved patterns of women or men.” But, not the same “excellence” hat Yeats’ remembers today.

 

Stanza Five 

My mediaeval knees lack health until they bend,

But in that woman, in that household where

Honour had lived so long, all lacking found.

Childless I thought, ‘My children may find here

Deep-rooted things,’ but never foresaw its end,

And now that end has come I have not wept;

No fox can foul the lair the badger swept — 

The fifth stanza opens with the speaker describing how his knees have become weak. Yeats is kneeling where he once stood, in front of Augusta Gregory’s painting. He recalls everything he knew about the woman while she was still alive. He remembers how while she was still alive he saw her as an honourable and caring person.Yeats recalls thinking that, one day, his children might find a similar home to that what she created. 

But, now she is gone, as is her son. In the last line Yeats uses the line “no fox can foul the lair the badger swept”. The sixth stanza reveals that this line came from Edmond Spencer, the famed poet of the epic The Faerie Queene.

 

Stanza Six 

(An image out of Spenser and the common tongue).

John Synge, I and Augusta Gregory, thought

All that we did, all that we said or sang

Must come from contact with the soil, from that

Contact everything Antaeus-like grew strong.

We three alone in modern times had brought

Everything down to that sole test again,

Dream of the noble and the beggar-man. 

In the six stanza of ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’ Yeats returns to his friends John Synge and Augusta Gregory. He recalls how when they were all together, they held the belief that “all [they] did” and “all [they] said” came from “contact with the soil”. Their lives, beliefs, and expressions came from a place of truth at the root of Ireland itself. By walking through life with this in mind, it would allow these three people to adequately and equally consider and depict “dream of the noble and the beggar-man”. 

 

Stanza Seven 

And here’s John Synge himself, that rooted man,

‘Forgetting human words,’ a grave deep face.

You that would judge me, do not judge alone

This book or that, come to this hallowed place

Where my friends’ portraits hang and look thereon;

Ireland’s history in their lineaments trace;

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,

And say my glory was I had such friends.

In the seventh stanza of ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’ the speaker comes upon a portrait of his friend John Synge. Just as he depicts the man in the poem  ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory,’ Yeats states that he was a person well-rooted. He had a “grave deep face”. 

The poem concludes with the poet directly telling those listening, or reading, that if they wish to judge him, they need to come to this place, and judge him by the friends he had during his life. These people were rooted and Irish history,  and Yeats judges himself based off of their goodness. They are where his glory begins and ends.

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