A Prayer For My Daughter By William Butler Yeats

A Prayer For My Daughter By William Butler Yeats : Critical Appreciation

Introduction :

The Poem entitled “A Prayer for my daughter” written by W.B. Yeats is one of the most famous poems. This poem was written in 1919. A few weeks after the birth of Yeats’ eldest child girl, Annie Butler Yeats. He wrote this poem just after a month of writing “The Second Coming“.

This poem should be read along with “The Second Coming” because there is some similarity between the two poems. The second coming deals with wrath and tyranny of the world. Yeats wanted to protect his daughter. He is anxious for the safety of his new born child. He wants to save his daughter from many an evil of the present civilization.

The poet had purchased the old tower or castle at Thoor Ballylee, renovated it and settled there soon after his marriage. This castle is the background to this prayer which is written in eighty lines, divided into ten stanzas of eight lines each. The poet is praying for his infant daughter in this poem.

Subject Matter :

Opening Stanza :

This is a poem of eighty lines in which poet is praying for his daughter (innocent babe in cradle). The poet is in a gloomy mood. He is anxious for the future of his child in a world which is growing harsher everyday. He prays for a balanced life of happiness for the young child.

“I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.”

The poet prays to God to give beauty to his daughter. But not too much beauty. Because, it makes a woman proud and cruel.

“May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught”

He prays that she may be kind and may have courtesy. Extreme beauty of Helen was responsible for the Trojan War. The poet gives more importance on courtesy which enables even those who are not entirely beautiful to win the heart of others.

Like many others, the poet, too, acted like a fool for the sake of over much beauty of Maud Gonne, loved her and thought that he was loved by her. He was disillusioned.

The kindness and courtesy of Mrs. George Lees who was wife of Yeats, ultimately won his heart. Her simple charm have made him wise and happy. So, He wants to learn her courtesy in life.

“In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise”

Middle Stanzas :

Poet asks for her a fixed abode (home) and happy thoughts. He considers that a life rooted in tradition is a happy life. So, He wishes that her life should be rooted in one fixed place and tradition like a green Laurel tree.

It makes life happy and prosperous. He wishes that her thoughts may be like the Linnet which is symbol of innocence and cheerfulness.

“May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be”

“O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.”

The poet wants that his daughter should be free from all hatred. If She is free from hatred. she shall be innocent and free from all evil influences.

“If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.”

The poet feels that the intellectual hatred is the worst. Maud Gonne, the most beautiful woman married a fool, John Macbride because of her opinionated mind. So, Poet wants that her daughter should remain free from the intellectual hatred.

“An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind.”

He thinks that his daughter can remain innocent if she is free from all hatred and opinionated mind. The innocence is “Self delighting, ” Self appeasing and Self affrighting“.

She wishes that her own will and pleasure should be expressive of the will of Heaven. She would be happy despite all the storms of misfortune.

“And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.”

Last Stanza :

In the last stanza, Poet wishes her to be married in an Aristocratic family of traditional sanctities and manners, governed by the customary laws of courtesy.

Arrogance and hatred are the qualities of the Common people. The Aristocratic ways of life are rooted in custom and tradition which are the source of all beauty and innocence.

“And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

Imagery :

The poem is full with images that are very suggestive. These images are following :

  • “The storm howling symbolises destruction.
  • The flooded stream also recalls the destruction.
  • “Murderous innocence of the sea,
  • Bandy legged Smith, Helen.
  • The Rich horn of plenty
  • The hidden Laurel tree
  • The mouth of plenty’s horn” etc.

Nature has been used as symbol of many things – Winds, Linnet, Laurel Tree etc.

Diction and Style :

The diction-choice and arrangements of words is simple. Words like Intellectual hatred, Opinionated, Considering, Magnanimities, Accustomed and Ceremonious make the poem obscure, The style of this poem is modern with romanticism.

Metrical Form :

This poem is written in Iambic Meter. Most of the poem are in iambic pentameters but some stanzas are iambic trimeter and tetrameter. For example, The following lines are in iambic trimeter.

“That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,”

But, the following line is in iambic tetrameter.

“A crazy salad with their meat”

Stanza :

The poem is of eighty lines which have been divides into ten stanzas of eight lines each. The first four lines of each stanza make two rhymed couplets but in last four lines of each stanza, the first line rhymes with fourth line and the second with the third. For example – In first stanza :

Half hid aWind c
Coverlid aStayed d
Obstacle bPrayed d
Hill bMind c

Thus, its rhyme scheme is aabb cddc.

Naturalness :

Nature plays an important role in this poem. The very first stanza uses nature as a symbol of destruction.

“Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood.”

“Whereby the haystack and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic.”

Again in the second stanza the poet also uses nature as a symbole of anarchic conditions in the world.

“And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come
Dancing to a frenzied drum
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.”

The Sea is murderous and destructive but innocent because the destruction is not intentional. Nature is also used as a symbol of happiness.

“May she become a flourishing hidden tree,
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be.”

“some green laurel, Rooted in one dear perpetual place.” symbolizes aristocracy which has its root in traditions and customs. In the last stanza poet uses nature as a symbol of peace and prosperity.

“And custom for the spreading laurel tree.”

Yeats as a poet of Nature :

Thus, We find that William Butler Yeats has used naturalness in his poem. He was a grat poet of nature. His poem “Lake isle of innisfree” is unique in its depiction of nature. To him everything is symbol in nature.

In the presence of nature, He says, “ all my heart seemed gay and his desire is to see her for it consoles and eases
the distressed soul of mind.

To him, a return to nature means a return to what is natural in man’s life. He has intense love for her beauties, sights and sounds.

Flexibility in the poem :

Mr. Jeffares points out that the poem has wonderful flexibility. This poem moves through description of the place to poet’s mood of gloom and then moves to the idea of beauty in women like Helen, Maud Gonne (Yeats’ beloved), Aphrodite.

Poet’s optimism :

In this poem, Poet praises courtesy, charm, wisdom and the glad kindness. He dislikes intellectual hatred and opinionated mind. The poet prays to God for his daughter.

This poem shows poet’s optimism when he says that Anarchy cannot harm the child if she is innocent and is in custom and ceremony breed. He wishes a happy life for his daughter.

Conclusion :

Thus, In “A Prayer For My Daughter” poem, William Butler Yeats presents his views about the uncertainty and miseries of world and wishes to save his daughter and prays that God may grant her such qualities in life which would win her friends and happiness.

Later on, He shows his mood of gloom and then moves to the beauty of women and modifies his views so that he may imagine about the happiness of his daughter.

He describes a life which is based on moral ideals and gives importance on courtesy. He presents his senses with true soul to his daughter according to his experience and belief.

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