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IB English II Study Guide: Yeats Test

29 Sept. 2008. Mrs. Benson

Test format:
• 15 multiple choice questions regarding poetic elements and
recognition of passages
• 2 written portions (long single-paragraph responses, basically) in
response to two of six/seven selected passages.
• Recognize excerpts according to source and location
• Recognize poetic literary elements and
• Analyze their effects
• Analyze relation to theme
• Analyze excerpt’s contribution to poem as a whole.

That’s a tall order, ne?

It’s all right. This guide is here to help.

Poem list:
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
Easter 1916
Sailing to Byzantium
Wild Swans at Coole
Song of Wandering Aengus
Adam’s Curse
No Second Troy
The Second Coming

Guide Format:
Summary/Possible themes
Main literary devices
Important lines

Before we begin: Things to Watch Out for (Beware!)

• Referring to the speaker as Yeats. Yes, Yeats wrote it, and he’s
one of those poets who really expresses himself personally in the
poems, but it’s really not correct or good form to say “in line 7,
Yeats is saying…”—much better to avoid that reference. Treat it
as an almost solitary object, the poem. This means avoid
bringing up his personal life (Maud Gonne) in excess. When you
make the poem about Yeats’ lovesickness for this one person, it
reduces the meaning of the poem itself to a very small thing.
Poems should be universal.

• Relying too much on Spencer’s presentation of A Vision. Yes,

Yeats has occult tendencies, and loves to feature antitheses,
gyres, and all that, but remember that none of the poems we’ve
looked at (besides Sailing to Byzantium, and still it’s very close)
were published after A Vision was—they all came before. So
certain images may be indications of Yeats’ thinking, but they do
not directly correspond to that theory—he hadn’t completed it


1. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

• Structure: Lyric poem (expressing feelings/desires) in first person
Rhyme scheme abab
Three stanzas, with 1st 3 lines of each being 13 syllables and last
line of each 8 syllables.
• Summary: Speaker’s expression of desire to find a peaceful,
beautiful place to live, shown to be useless in the last stanza—
the idyllic home is imaginary but still desired. Theme: People can
imagine peacefulness and thus partially escape
• Literary devices:
Imagery – All senses affected (“clay and wattles”=touch;
“glimmer,” “purple glow”=sight; “bee-loud,” “lake water
lapping”=hearing; “honey-bee”=possibly taste; etc.) –All
contribute to a motif of peacefulness, contrasted with the last
Euphony (pleasant combination of sounds) – Contributes to
Metonymy/Synecdoche – “and evening full of the linnet’s wings”;
where the wings represent the linnets themselves—adds to
completeness of the scene
• Important lines:
“Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee” (3)
“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow”
“I will arise and go now, for always night and day” (9)
“While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.” (11-12)

Hear Yeats read the poem aloud at
2. “Easter 1916”
• Structure: Lyric poem; Elegy/Eulogy for dead rebels
4 stanzas – abab cdcd scheme
Ist and 3rd stanzas: 16 lines; 2nd and 4th stanzas: 24 lines each
Largely iambic, mostly trimester—becomes more regular as
poem progresses, as though expressing the discovery of
comprehension or at least acceptance
Respectful, reflective tone—subtly intense (“a terrible beauty is
• Summary: Elegy for 15 people dead/executed in Easter Rising.
Speaker takes a helplessly ambivalent view, not condemning and
not praising—merely recognizing a change. Theme: Death for
such a powerful cause cannot be called meaningless; one way or
another, it changes things.
• Literary devices:
Imagery – Most concentrated in third stanza. Images of a stone in
a stream may reflect the analogy to this event’s solid place in
history, whereas images of life reflect the overwhelming
continuity of nature.
Repetition – Phrases “minute by minute” suggest chaotic change
“A terrible beauty is born” for all but 3rd stanza: oxymoron
(terrible beauty)—reflects the overall irreconcilable extremes of
the Easter Rising. It’s good, but it’s bad. No final judgment is
“Wherever is worn” – 1st stanza=motley (chaotic,
scattered, plain)
2nd stanza=green (lively, unified, meaningful)
Suggests change from decay to life through this event
• Important lines:
“I have met them at close of day” (1)
“I have passed with a nod of the head” (5)
“And thought before I had done/of a mocking tale or a gibe” (9-10)

End lines of each stanza:

“All’s changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born” (15-16)
Compare to
“He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.” (38-40)
Compare to
“Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of it all.” (55-56)
Compare to
“Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.” (79-80)

3. “Sailing to Byzantium”
• Structure:
Lyric poem
Rhyme scheme abababcc (Six lines w/alternating rhyme, ending w/2
rhyming couplets): called ottava rima
Four stanzas, initally 11-syllable lines, then iambic pentameter
• Summary: Speaker expresses wish to leave that “country” and to
go to “Byzantium,” a metaphorical place where art is celebrated
and created, and where he may become a part of “the artifice of
Theme: Art and poetry allows for immortality, and a more
meaningful life than that of “sensual music”
• Literary devices:
Imagery – Dying life (“mackerel-crowded seas”) and “sensual
Artistic life (“holy fire”, “perne in a gyre”) and “gold” and “golden
Dualism/Antithesis – Mortal world vs. Artistic Eternity
Seen in contrasting images of first two and last two stanzas
“sensual music” vs. “singing school” and song of Grecian
Metonymy – “Soul” = Artistic intellect
“Singing school” = Anything that appreciates art
“sages standing in God’s holy fire” = artists of the past
“my heart” [the one “sick with desire”] = the mortal aspect of
the speaker
• Important lines:
“That is no country for old men.” (from 1)
“—Those dying generations—at their song,” (3)
“Caught in that sensual music, all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect” (7-8)

“An aged man is but a paltry thing” (9)

“Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing” (11)
“Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
Therefore have I sailed the seas and come” (13-15)

“Come from the holy fire,” (from 19)

“Consume my heart away; sick with desire” (20)
“…and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity” (from 23-24)
“Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing” (25-26)
“Of what is past, or passing, or to come” (32)

4. “Wild Swans at Coole”

• Structure:
Ballad stanzas (abcb) w/ rhyming couplet at end of each
Dramatic lyric poem: expresses sense of loss and melancholy at
• Summary:
Speaker expresses loss, loneliness, and a feeling of mortality,
while observing the apparent (though illusory) immortality of the
swans at Coole.
• Literary devices:
Objective correlative – Landscape = how the speaker feels
Imagery – Swans present images of beauty, passion, life, and
Landscape represents intractable cycling of time
Water images (“cold companionable streams”, “brimming
water”) suggest life that speaker cannot maintain
Overall, peaceful images of seemingly immortal nature
contrast with man’s (speaker’s) emotional unrest at inevitable
death and loss
Rhetorical question – at end of poem. Suggests the helpless
desire of the speaker to remain unchanging, wondering about the
• Important lines:
“The trees are in their autumn beauty” (1)
“Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.” (5-6)

“I saw, before I had well finished,

All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings” (9-11)

“All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,” (15)

“Trod with a lighter tread” (18)

“Unwearied still, lover by lover,

They paddle in the cold” (19-20)

“Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?” (27-30)

5. “The Song of Wandering Aengus”

• Structure:
Similar to Ballad structure (double-ballad, maybe) but the
syllable’s aren’t right for it
Rhyme scheme: abcb defe
Dramatic poem (expresses point of view of the narrator only)
• Summary:
Speaker (Aengus) catches a fish, lays it on the floor to cook,
turns around, and finds that it has become “a glimmering girl”
who runs away. He then commences an endless search for her,
which at the end of the poem has not been rewarded but which
will continue.
• Literary devices:
Imagery – “hazel wood” implies magic; so does “silver trout” and
“white moths” and “glimmering girl”
“apple blossoms” recall Maud Gonne on his first meeting with her
—but be careful with that one! Don’t go overboard!
Age of narrator: “old with wandering”
Idealism of search’s end: “long dappled grass” and “silver apples
of the moon” and “golden apples of the sun”—optimistic, perfect
Allusion – “apples” to “pluck”: Biblical reference to Garden of
Eden? The narrator has found a beautiful love, and now searches
for it.
Dualism/Antithesis – “fire” and “silver trout” at night (when
“white moths” are “on the wing”) represents physical love, and
“glimmering girl” and “apples” represent ephemeral, spiritual
love, that the speaker now desires
Parallel Structure – “called me by my name
• Important lines:
“I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,” (1-2)
“And caught a little silver trout” (8)

“It had become a glimmering girl” (13)

“Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air” (15-16)

“Though I am old with wandering” (17)

“I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;” (19-20)
“And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.” (22-24: the best of both worlds?)

6. “Adam’s Curse”

• Structure: Not much of one. The most important thing is that it’s
dialogue, all used to express the speaker’s views. Each stanza is
a different person talking, expressing examples of art’s fall from
Okay, I lied. There is one more important thing: it’s made of
rhyming couplets, slant rhymed (only last syllable). Oh, and the
stanzas get smaller as the poem progresses. Maybe represents
the narrowing of appreciation for art.
• Summary: Art has fallen from favor in the world, replaced by
more “practical things”. Surprised, considering the previous
sentence? That is, art and poetry and love and passion itself is
losing appreciation.
• Literary devices:
Imagery – Fourth (next to last) stanza incorporates most dense
use of imagery: the “moon, worn as if it had been a shell/Washed
by time’s waters” implies the deterioration caused by
unstoppable cycles of time. Sad! Can be a metaphor for the
deterioration of appreciation of art and passion, caused by the
unstoppable pragmatism of the world.
Analogy (courtesy of Anna Hinesley and her presentation group):
Laborer and labor = poet and poem = lover and courting =
woman and beauty
All must work for their product, but only the manual laborer is
Allusion – Title, “Adam’s Curse” = Biblical reference to Adam and
the fall from paradise; humans now must work for all beautiful
and desirable things.
• Important lines:
“And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said: ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.” (3-6)
“…and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set…
The martyrs call the world.” (from 11, 12, 14)

“To be born woman is to know…

That we must labor to be beautiful” (19, 21)
“I said: ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much laboring.” (22-23)
“That they would sigh and quote with learned looks…
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.” (26, 28)

“We sat grown quiet at the name of love;

We saw the last embers of daylight die,” (29-30)
“A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.” (32-34)

“I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:

That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;” (35-37)

7. “No Second Troy”

• Structure:
Twelve lines, rhymes abab cdcd efef
Entirely composed of rhetorical questions (significant!!!)
• Summary:
Speaker justifies the misery that the woman he loves brings
about, by comparing her to the incendiary Helen of Troy—
basically saying that sadness and destruction around her (and
perhaps around all beautiful women, or even all beautiful things)
is inevitable.
• Literary Devices
Allusion – Um, Helen of Troy, anyone? From Greek mythology.
Helen was the “face that launched a thousand ships”; her beauty
led men to start wars.
Imagery – The “second Helen’s” destruction: “hurled the little
streets upon the great” (also metonymy: streets = warring
people or classes)
Description of the woman: “a mind/That nobleness made simple
as a fire” (ie. One-track mind); “beauty like a tightened bow”;
“high and solitary”
Through imagery, this woman is elevated to the level of a near-
goddess. That sounds like indication of forgiveness to me,
however bitterly it may be given.
Rhetorical questions – The entire poem. Because the retraction of
blame (“Why should I blame her…?”) is given in question form, it
is ironic: yes, the speaker is accepting, but bitterly and without
• Important lines:
“…or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,” (from 2-4)
“What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire” (6-7)
“Why, what could she have done being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?” (11-12)

8. “The Second Coming” (LAST ONE!!!) (I’m excited, guys.)

• Structure:
The thing is, there’s very little, and that’s the point. Just as in
absurdist theatre (don’t worry, you don’t have to know that),
form follows theme—chaotic verse echoes chaotic ideas of the
There is some iambic pentameter, as in the first stanza, but that
eventually deteriorates. Along with optimism.
• Summary:
“Things fall apart” pretty well sums it up. Control is giving way to
loss thereof; order succumbs to chaos, hope drowns in troubled
visions. The future, according to the speaker, is not looking good.
• Literary devices: (there are so many!)
Imagery – Where do I start? They’re mostly all of chaos taking
“turning and turning”; “widening gyre”; “the center cannot hold”;
“the blood-dimmed tide is loosed”.
The “vision” of trouble: “a vast image” “somewhere in the sands
of the desert” of “lion body and the head of a man” “blank and
pitiless as the sun” (SIMILE!), “moving its slow thighs while all
about it/Reel shadows of indignant birds”
The nature images in the poem (of falcons flying away, of
desert birds) communicate death, chaos, trouble, disturbance,
darkness, fear.
The images of humanity are limited to “the falconer” (who
loses control completely) and “a rocking cradle”, which vexes the
“rough beast” to “nightmare”—not a good sign, little baby!
Basically, humanity is being overwhelmed by
Metonymy – Rocking cradle = baby Jesus… or the chaotic world!
Sibilance – Probably the most important use of alliteration in
Yeats. The S’s imply sinister situations, scary, snakelike,
suspicious stuff. See? Think of “slouches.” Creepy!
• Important lines:
The whole poem. It’s so dense. Read it all, man.
Remember these literary devices in general—they’re all over
the place.
Caesura—A hard break. Often in the middle. Of a line.
Allusion—reference to another work, or religious reference, or
Enjambment—meaning of sentence/thought continues over more than
one line
Alliteration—Man, the majority of men (and women) should’ve
mastered this much. Repetition of beginning sounds.
Metaphor—Analogy of two dissimilar things, to imply similarity or to
establish emotional comparison.
Simile—Analogy of two similar things. Simile is like the road that links
two neighboring houses, and simile is as the bird that carries a branch
to its nest: it connects us all.
Dualism/Antithesis—Contrast of two ideas/images/themes, often
expressed continually through a motif.
Metonymy/Synecdoche—Use of one image to represent a greater idea
(eg. linnet’s wings representing linnets themselves)
Repetition—Well, repetition. Used for emphasis! Hear that? Emphasis!

Other info:
Most of Yeat’s poems are lyric. They represent his point of view.
Most of his poems also employ some form of iambic meter. That’s the
“conversational meter,” according to Mrs. Benson. So when in doubt
(though it’s not hard to count syllables, really)—it’s probably iambic.
They also tend to change meter as they go, either gaining structure or
(like with The Second Coming) losing it. That means something, folks!

Look at to hear
Yeats reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” aloud. It’s pretty cool.
Unfortunately, that’s the only one of his that’s on there as audio.

I suggest, in addition to this lovely guide, reading each of the poems

again on your own. Ideally, aloud. That will make them stick—it really
will. Good luck!

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