Yeats is someone for whom "the past is never past." He viewed history as interlocking periods of increasing or decreasing order and authority. The fall of the ancient city of Troy marked one such breakdown of order, and he thought that modern society was headed for another period of chaos. Maud Gonne, a traditionally raised woman turned radical, represents one example of history trending toward chaos. Yeats compares Gonne to a figure from ancient Greece, Helen of Troy, whose beauty and mischievous character led to great violence. Maud is a modern-day Helen, even if her impact is limited mainly to Yeats's own life and Ireland.
Questions About Memory and the Past
Is the speaker still in love with Maud Gonne? What evidence can you find in the poem to argue for or against this?
Does the speaker suggest that Gonne has changed in recent years, or has her character remained the same?
Do you think Irish revolutionary politics can be compared to the Trojan War? How are the conflicts similar and different?
For those of you acquainted with Yeats's theory of history as "gyres" or spirals (if not, check out Shmoop's analyses of "Sailing to Byzantium" and "The Second Coming"), how might the idea that history consists of alternating cycles play into this poem?
Chew on This
Although Gonne's role in Irish politics has changed to adapt to new political circumstances, the poem suggests that her character is static and unchanging, like a figure from Greek epic poetry.
Yeats views the political instability in Ireland as a sign of a coming period of chaos, similar to the Ancient World after the destruction of Troy.