In ‘To Ireland in the Coming Times,’ William Butler Yeats discusses his impact on Ireland’s social and cultural landscape. He suggests that he should be counted among the other revolutionaries who were Ireland’s most important figures in the early 20th century. Yates won the Noble Prize in Literature in the year 1923 for his work.
To Ireland in the Coming Times William Butler Yeats Know, that I would accounted be True brother of a company That sang, to sweeten Ireland's wrong, Ballad and story, rann and song; Nor be I any less of them, Because the red-rose-bordered hem Of her, whose history began Before God made the angelic clan, Trails all about the written page. When Time began to rant and rage The measure of her flying feet Made Ireland's heart begin to beat; And Time bade all his candles flare To light a measure here and there; And may the thoughts of Ireland brood Upon a measured quietude. Nor may I less be counted one With Davis, Mangan, Ferguson, Because, to him who ponders well, My rhymes more than their rhyming tell Of things discovered in the deep, Where only body's laid asleep. For the elemental creatures go About my table to and fro, That hurry from unmeasured mind To rant and rage in flood and wind; Yet he who treads in measured ways May surely barter gaze for gaze. Man ever journeys on with them After the red-rose-bordered hem. Ah, faeries, dancing under the moon, A Druid land, a Druid tune! While still I may, I write for you The love I lived, the dream I knew. From our birthday, until we die, Is but the winking of an eye; And we, our singing and our love, What measurer Time has lit above, And all benighted things that go About my table to and fro, Are passing on to where may be, In truth's consuming ecstasy, No place for love and dream at all; For God goes by with white footfall. I cast my heart into my rhymes, That you, in the dim coming times, May know how my heart went with them After the red-rose-bordered hem.
Explore To Ireland in the Coming Times
In the first stanza of this poem, Yeats begins by describing how he counts himself among the revolutionaries and writers who worked toward Ireland’s independence during the early 1900s.
He notes that his writing used to be devoted to a different purpose, but he has now turned to defend Ireland’s identity. As the lines pass, he continues to suggest that he deserves to be counted among names like “Davis, Mangan, Ferguson.” These writers and revolutionaries are key to Ireland’s identity in the poet’s mind.
He also tells readers that if they take the time to delve into his work, they will see that there is more to his poetry than just simple rhymes. In conclusion, the poet notes that he is going to continue on this path with his writing for as long as “Time” will allow.
Structure and Form
‘To Ireland in the Coming Times’ by William Butler Yeats is a three-stanza poem that is divided into sets of sixteen lines. The stanzas follow a rhyme scheme of AABBCCDD, and so on, changing end sounds throughout the three sets of lines. The poem is also written in iambic tetrameter. This means that the poet makes use of four sets of two beats in each line. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines six and seven of the same stanza.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting examples and descriptions. Imagery should trigger the readers senses, inspiring them to imagine the scene in great detail. For example, “Made Ireland’s heart begin to beat;/ And Time bade all his candles flare.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “rhymes” and “rhyming” in line four of the second stanza.
Know, that I would accounted be
True brother of a company
That sang, to sweeten Ireland’s wrong,
Ballad and story, rann and song;
Nor be I any less of them,
Because the red-rose-bordered hem
Of her, whose history began
Before God made the angelic clan,
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker, who is William Butler Yeats himself, is describing his role in helping Ireland towards its independence. He counts himself among those who “sang, to sweeten Ireland’s wrong.” The word “sang” is a reference to the poetry that he wrote in order to inspire the people of Ireland.
In the next lines, he suggests that when he first began writing, his poems had a different intention than they do now. This changed as he sought to influence the world around him. The “red-rose-bordered hem / Of her,” being Ireland, has inspired him. (The color red is associated with blood but also with passion). He does not believe that because of his past poetry that his role in Ireland’s history should be diminished in any way.
Trails all about the written page.
When Time began to rant and rage
The measure of her flying feet
Made Ireland’s heart begin to beat;
And Time bade all his candles flare
To light a measure here and there;
And may the thoughts of Ireland brood
Upon a measured quietude.
In the next lines, the poet makes use of examples of personification. He describes time as a personified force that’s capable of ranting and raging like a human being. Ireland is also personified, described as having a heart that beats.
While readers might have different interpretations of these lines, most believe that this is a reference to World War I. The onset of the war changed the progression of Irish history. Their independence was delayed and various revolts took place. The most famous of these is the 1916 Easter Rebellion. You can read about the rebellion in Yeats’ poem ‘Easter, 1916.’
The progression of time “bade all his candles flare.” Here, Yeats is likely referencing the people, the revolutionaries, that this delay and the various injustices that Ireland has suffered throughout its long history, inspired. They “light a measure here and there.” Some of the many revolutionaries who are important in Ireland’s history are mentioned at the beginning of the next stanza.
Nor may I less be counted one
With Davis, Mangan, Ferguson,
Because, to him who ponders well,
My rhymes more than their rhyming tell
Of things discovered in the deep,
Where only body’s laid asleep.
For the elemental creatures go
About my table to and fro,
At the beginning of this stanza, the speaker suggests that they should not be excluded from the count of famous revolutionaries like James Clarence Mangan, Sir Samuel Ferguson, and Thomas Osborne Davis. The latter was the leader of the Young Ireland Party. Mangan and Ferguson were both poets, like Yeats. True to Yeats’ assumption of himself, today, his influence is very often considered among the leading revolutionary figures of the time in Ireland.
To prove his worth among the poets and politicians of the day, Yeats tells readers that if they delve into his “rhymes” there is more than just “rhyming” within them. There are things to be discovered “in the deep.” His verses are filled with a deep meaning that lay bare the “elemental” parts of humanity’s struggle. Images related to Ireland and “her” people go “about” his “table to and fro.”
That hurry from unmeasured mind
To rant and rage in flood and wind;
Yet he who treads in measured ways
May surely barter gaze for gaze.
Man ever journeys on with them
After the red-rose-bordered hem.
Ah, faeries, dancing under the moon,
A Druid land, a Druid tune!
The second half of the stanza continues to describe the poet’s work. Those who spend enough time delving into the lines of Yeats’ poetry are sure to walk away with more knowledge about Ireland and her people than they had before. They will be better because of it.
Also, within this section of verse, the poet suggests that his patriotic poetry is going to last a long time, “after the red-rose-borded hem.” The phrase appears in this stanza, the first, and third. It is a reference to Ireland “herself” and how everything he does is for his country. The red of the blood represents that which was shed with the intention of improving the lives of the Irish people and gaining independence.
The last two lines of this stanza are far more lyrical than many that preceded them. He speaks of fairies dancing under the moon and refers to Ireland as “a Druid land.” The dreamlike quality of these images continues into the third stanza.
While still I may, I write for you
The love I lived, the dream I knew.
From our birthday, until we die,
Is but the winking of an eye;
And we, our singing and our love,
What measurer Time has lit above,
And all benighted things that go
About my table to and fro,
In the third stanza, Yates makes use of what is known as an apostrophe. He addresses Ireland as “you.” He tells the country, and all those who live there and read his poetry, that he writes “for you.” His time on Earth is quite short, from his “birthday, until” he dies. It is “but the winking of an eye.”(This is an example of a metaphor.) He suggests that he’s going to write poetry in this vein for as long as life will allow him to. He is going to maintain the same belief in Ireland until he dies. He believes that Ireland will attain her freedom in the future.
Are passing on to where may be,
In truth’s consuming ecstasy,
No place for love and dream at all;
For God goes by with white footfall.
I cast my heart into my rhymes,
That you, in the dim coming times,
May know how my heart went with them
After the red-rose-bordered hem.
In the final lines of Yeats’ complex and powerful poem, he says that truth will consume ecstasy, or that the world that he has been writing about (and others have been writing about) is coming to fruition. It will no longer be a dream.
He mentions God’s role in the next line. He believes that God is with his songs, meaning that he is on the poet’s side and is helping to inspire him to write more. He knows that what he writes will become the truth. He is going to “cast” his heart into all of his rhymes until he’s no longer able to. He wants future readers to know that he was a part of the fight for Ireland’s independence. And that his “heart went with them.”
The main theme is the impact and longevity of Yeats’ poetic works. Throughout this piece, the poet comments on the impact of his poetry. He suggests that he should be counted among Ireland’s most important revolutionaries in the fight for the country’s independence.
The purpose is to explore the impact of Yeats’ own poetry and its influence on the cultural and social landscape of Ireland. Throughout, the Irish poet six to prove his own importance to the history of Ireland.
The speaker is William Butler Yeats. He spends the poem discussing the impact of his poetry and committing himself to the best interests of Ireland and her people for the rest of his life.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other William Butler Yeats poems. For example:
- ‘A Coat’ – describes the poet’s own writing practice through the metaphor of an embroidered coat.
- ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’ – speaks about the poet’s family. It demonstrates his concern and anxiety over the future wellbeing and prospects of his daughter, Anne.
- ‘Adam’s Curse’ – a moving poem about the presence, or lack thereof, of beauty and true love in the world.