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Themes

The issue of gender arises in "No Second Troy" through the comparison between Maud Gonne and Helen of Troy. We don't want to oversimplify Yeats's thoughts on women. Yes, he had a conservative personality, but he was also attracted to strong, intelligent, powerful women like Maud Gonne. Gonne sounds like she was every bit Yeats's equal. But the speaker of this poem also falls for the story that Helen of Troy, that beautiful temptress, caused the Trojan War all by herself. The poem presents feminine beauty as powerful, dangerous, and potentially manipulative.

Questions About Gender

  1. Does comparing Maud Gonne with the most beautiful woman of all time (Helen of Troy), create an ideal that no woman could possibly live up to?
  2. Who would be a comparable figure to Helen of Troy in terms of impossible male standards? Achilles, perhaps?
  3. In what sense did Helen "burn" down the city of Troy, if she didn't actually set the fire herself?
  4. What is the speaker's attitude toward beautiful, noble, powerful women? Does he idealize them? Is he afraid of them? Does he see himself as equal to them?

Chew on This

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

The imagery in the poem overreaches in trying to make the case that Maud Gonne has an inherently violent character.

In arguing that Helen burned Troy, Yeats lessens the responsibility of men. In this poem, men lose their status as independent agents in the presence of powerful women.

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