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Ancient Greece

Symbol Analysis

Yeats had a very mythological and historical mind. He thought that history moved in cycles from more orderly to more chaotic periods. In poems like "The Second Coming," he expressed his belief that society was moving toward a more chaotic period. Maud Gonne, however, is a paradox to him: she seems to come out of a more "noble" and aristocratic age, and yet she causes chaos – not least in his own life. He tries to make sense of her presence in this poem by comparing her to Helen of Troy, a beautiful woman whose illicit love is said to have provoked the Trojan War.

  • Line 7: In this line, fire is a symbol of a primitive force of destruction. Fire is also what destroyed Troy, a point that will develop in line 12.
  • Lines 8-10: This simile compares Maud's beauty to a "tightened bow." A bow is a simple and graceful weapon, but the "tightened" string of the bow contains enormous power and energy. Also, bows and arrows allude to an earlier period in history, probably ancient Greece.
  • Line 12 (and Title): The poem centers on a historical allusion, a metaphor comparing Maud Gonne with Helen of Troy, and Maud's destructive tendencies with the destruction of Troy.

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