Study Guide

Easter, 1916 Sacrifice

By William Butler Yeats

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While he may not be sure about whether he admires the Irish fighters, Yeats can definitely get behind the fact that these people totally sacrificed themselves for something they believed in. In doing so, they show a level of passion and courage that Yeats doesn't seem to have himself. He's content to stand back and write poetry about what's happening around him, and so here we are reading "Easter, 1916."

Questions About Sacrifice

  1. What is Yeats getting at in lines 67-68 when he writes, "Was it needless death after all? / For England may keep faith"? How does it relate to the question of the fighters' sacrifice?
  2. When Yeats writes, "We know their dream; enough / To know they dreamed and are dead" (70-71), what kind of comment is he making on the lives of the people who gave their lives in the Easter Uprising?
  3. If Yeats doesn't admire the sacrifice of the people who have died in the Easter Uprising, then how does he feel about it? Use quotations from the poem to support your answer.

Chew on This

Ultimately, Yeats thinks that the sacrifice of the Irish fighters was foolish, since all they had to do was wait for the war to be over before Ireland got its independence.

Yeats admires people who sacrifice themselves for a cause because this is something he'd never do.

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