Study Guide

No Second Troy Symbolism, Imagery, Wordplay

By William Butler Yeats

Symbolism, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

Rhetorical Questions

"No Second Troy" is structured around four different rhetorical questions. These are questions the poet does not need or intend to answer. He probably already knows the answers. It's like when you ask yourself, "Why should I study for the test tomorrow? I already know the material." You also already know you're not going to study; you're just justifying your decision to yourself. In this poem, the speaker wonders why he should blame "her" (Maud Gonne – see "In a Nutshell") for causing so many problems for him and his country. The questions make it seem like he doesn't blame her, but we suspect he does...

  • Lines 1-5: The purpose of the first rhetorical question is to lay out all of the charges against Gonne. It's just an excuse to point out that she broke Yeats's heart and tried to stir unrest in Ireland.
  • Lines 6-10: The second rhetorical question is an excuse to talk about how great Gonne is, how beautiful, noble, and powerful.
  • Line 11: The third rhetorical question sums up what the poet has been saying so far, that she is who she is. How philosophical of you, Yeats.
  • Line 12: The last rhetorical question delivers the punch line: Maud is as troublesome as Helen of Troy, and she would burn down a city if she could!

Ancient Greece

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.

Class Conflict

Yeats was a conservative who valued order and tradition. Maud Gonne was a radical who grew out of the traditional Irish society he loved. He's like, "You're one of us! You should know better than to stir up all those commoners!" He uses images that serve to place her within a traditional heritage.

  • Line 3: The "ignorant men" he speaks of represent the uneducated commoners that Maud, an educated actress, tried to inspire with revolutionary fervor.
  • Line 4: "Little streets" and "great streets" is an example of metonymy. Think of the way the word "crown" stands for royalty, like how we say, "The English crown." The "little streets" stand for the lower classes, while the "great streets" stand for the wealthy and powerful. The image of throwing ("hurling") the little on the great represents how Maud tried to incite the powerless to rise against the powerful British.
  • Line 7: Although Maud Gonne was a radical, Yeats points out that she has a "noble" or highborn appearance. He compares her nobility to fire, using simile.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...