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In Memory of W.B. Yeats

In Memory of W.B. Yeats


by W.H. Auden

Section III, Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 42-43

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.

  • Ah, now we're in true elegy territory. Auden's delving deep into tradition with the last section of this poem (and believe us, we'll have a whole bunch to say about that in "Form and Meter").
  • We can't help but notice that this is the first time Yeats is referred to by name in the poem, other than the title. Explaining just who it is that you're mourning is usually one of the first things that an elegy sets out to do – something this final, formal section makes very clear.
  • But placing this version of the elegy last in the lineup shakes up the way we receive it. Could it mean that Auden places less emphasis on the man than on his poetry? Could it mean that he just doesn't like all the stuffy formalness of traditional elegiac forms? Could he just want the familiarity of addressing Yeats himself instead of a crowd of readers?
  • Well, we don't have any good answers for you, but it's something to think about.
  • Speaking of tradition, let's take a second to point out how ridiculously traditional phrases like the address to the Earth or the laying of Yeats to rest are. They roll right off the tongue as if they've been there before...probably because they have.

Lines 44-45

Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

  • Does this sound any different to you than earlier descriptions of Yeats's death? It does to us.
  • Each previous section has some reference to the poet's body ending and his work continuing on. But now Yeats is referred to as an "Irish vessel," a body meant to carry only poetry (and not, say, the problems the speaker brought up at the beginning of Section II).
  • It's almost as if the poem itself goes through a purifying process: as Auden recycles certain ideas about Yeats's death, he figures out new ways to approach a subject that is admittedly pretty difficult.
  • Notice now that even the formal reference to William Yeats seems strangely impersonal – after all, the Irish vessel is an "it."

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