Study Guide

Easter, 1916 Admiration

By William Butler Yeats

Admiration

All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born (15-16)

Yeats can acknowledge that there's a sort of "terrible beauty" in what the Irish fighters have done. He can also understand that after the Easter Uprising, nothing can be the same in Ireland. But at the same time, this doesn't amount to actual admiration. It creeps right up to the edge of admiration, then stops.

He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed (28-29)

While writing about a poet and dramatist named Thomas MacDonagh, Yeats hints that maybe this dude could have been famous as a writer if he hadn't gone and thrown his life away in the Easter Uprising. But then again, Yeats also shows a tinge of admiration for the potential this guy showed as a writer. So that's something.

Yet I number him in this song;
He, too, has resigned his part (35-36)

Yeats faces his toughest test when he has to write about John MacBride, the estranged husband of a woman Yeats loved. Yeats makes no bones about the fact that he despised MacBride, but still feels like he needs to mention the guy because he (MacBride) gave his life to the cause of Irish freedom.

Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all (55-56)

In stanza 3 of the poem, Yeats compares the passion and courage of the Irish fighters to a stone that sits unchanging at the bottom of a flowing stream. There's definitely some admiration here, if only because Yeats knows that he personally doesn't show this kind of consistency in his own life. He tends to go with the flow like most people.

I write it out in verseā€”
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse (74-76)

Toward the end of the poem, Yeats still can't commit to full-blown admiration for the Irish fighters. But one thing's for sure: he just wrote a poem about them. This is kind of weird, because Yeats is looking back on his poem and wondering why he just wrote it. Now that's ambivalence for you.

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