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In Memory of W.B. Yeats

In Memory of W.B. Yeats


by W.H. Auden

In Memory of W.B. Yeats Theme of Death

"In Memory of W.B. Yeats" is all about death. After all, it's an elegy, a poem written in memory of a person who has passed away. Death has a way of making people consider what it means to be alive – especially if the dead person happens to share your career path and maybe even your worldview.  In this poem, Yeats's passing becomes an occasion for Auden to think through the complicated legacy Yeats left behind – as well as the ways in which Yeats's work forever shaped the poetic landscape. Yup, it's a pretty big topic to take on in one little poem. But if anyone's up to the task, it's Auden.

Questions About Death

  1. In what ways is this poem like other elegies you've read? In what ways is it different?
  2. Is death portrayed as a bad thing in this poem? Can you find passages that support your answer?   
  3. Why write about someone right after they die? How does this perspective change things?      
  4. Do you approach a dead poet's work differently than you would a living poet's? Why or why not?
  5. Is Auden apprehensive of the way Yeats's memory will be handled by the living? How can you tell?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

"In Memory of W.B. Yeats" isn't one elegy – it's three.

"In Memory of W.B. Yeats" mourns the loss of Yeats the poet, not Yeats the man.

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