A Bronze Head: by W. B. Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza I

      Here at the very entrance of the Dublin Municipal Gallery stands the bronze bust of Maud Gonne (done by Lawrence Campbell). Her figure looks both human as well as non-human (heavenly). She has the penetrating bird’s eye, while the rest of her face is dry and dead as a mummy. This great lady who used to haunt tombs (of patriots) has her eyes fixed at the distant sky (immortal things). This vision of hers will survive the corroding effect of time. Like a lovely bird flying in the sky in the hope of prey and failing to get anything, her inner firry of passion is intensified by the emptiness of the sky.

Stanza II

      Maud Gonne was in her youth not a tomb haunter. Her body was healthy and beautiful, dignified and and noble like that of a gentle woman. No one can tell which of her two forms—in youth or in old age is her real self. Perhaps she is a mixture of both forms (old and young) and the profound philosopher McTaggart thought in the same way and that the soul is a mixture of life and death (human personality is a blend of both the changing and non-changing elements).

Stanza III

      Even in youth, Maud Gonne was smart and charming. I found the childishness in her eyes which indicated that she must have suffered a soul-shattering vision of terror. Perhaps my being so near to her made me imagine that wildness in her which in fact was not part of her nature. I was much overpowered by her helplessness and wanted to protect “my child” (His beloved) from anxieties and dangers.

Stanza IV

      Perhaps I regarded her as a supernatural being driven by some divine force. Possessed by a mysterious power, her real eyes looked sterner than it should have looked, on this dirty world, in its ruin and degradation. Everything was topsy-turvy: low families had suddenly become great and important: the aristocratic families had suddenly become weak and unimportant. The old traditions and values had been thrown away like pearls before swine. The aristocratic values were laughed at by the foolish masses. The divine power looking through her eye must have wondered if there was anything worth saving in this general massacre of time-honoured ideals and values (of Ireland).

Critical Analysis


      Included in the last volume of poems A Bronze Head published in 1936, this poem offers a glimpse into real Maud Gonne whom the poet loved so intensely. The poem was written when the poet carefully saw the statue of Maud placed at the entrance of the Gallery of Modem Art in Dublin. The poet who knew Maud so Intimately analyses her personality, her human and super-human qualities—the stemness and the compulsive passion which motivated her political activity. She seemed to be guided by some divine force to her an execrable destiny. Her bronze bust expressed the ambivalence of her personality. Her face is shrunken and withered, while her eyes are wild and sharp. The poet looked at this decaying world, the loss of ancient traditions and values and wondered if there was anything left which was worth saving. Old age, no doubt has changed the physical and mental makeup of Maud Gonne, but what the poet points out so vividly is the decline and degradation which has overtaken his country. Perhaps the poet regrets the political activity and agitation of Maud Gonne and her associates which had brought nothing but ruin and degradation to his country. Maybe that, a divine power is responsible for the country’s ruin and Maud Gonne is only a victim or instrument of the pathetic future of her country.

Development of Thought

      The poet looks at the bronze bust of Maud Gonne in that art gallery and ponders over the change brought about by old age on that grand lady. The face represents her dual personality-human and super-human. Her bird-like eyes seem to look at the heavens and its emptiness. In her old age she was a tomb haunter, as she visited the tombs of Irish patriots , but in her youth she was graceful and enhancing. She was gentle and noble in her behavior Both her forms—youthful and aged, are represented by the bust. In fact, her soul seemed to be a blending of life and death. However, even in her youth, her wildness seemed to be prophetic. Perhaps she had a vision of the coming years and the deterioration of Ireland. The poet could visualize her agony and helplessness but could hardly do anything to undo the fate that overtook her.

The Hand of Destiny

      Maud Gonne was driven by some supernatural force. The fury of her passion was motivated by some divine power. Perhaps her stem eyes could see the changes and the doom awaiting her country. Old traditions and values were destroyed. High ideals and visions of heroism were thrown overboard and the physical changes of old age in Maud Gonne only reflected the decline and degradation of her own country. The poet felt that it was so destined that Maud Gonne’s politics should destroy her and bring her country to the verge of ruin. Indirectly, the poet disapproved of the political movement which she led and which brought nothing but misery to Ireland.


      The poem contains beautiful images which symbolize the dual personality of Maud Gonne She is both young and old, generous and stern. Her decaying figure and aging body echo the degeneration of her own country. In this connection John Unterecker wrote. “This lovely generous portrait combines. Yeats’s ten most persistent themes those of contemporary degeneration and the ravages of time.” The contradictory elements in Maud’s personality are mentioned distinctly. Human, super human; hysterical passion; emptiness; withered and mummy-dead, sleek and new; there is a similar disparity in the fate of Ireland; gangling stocks, great stocks; ancestral pearls, sty, heroic reverie, clown and knave.

Critical Opinion

      The personality of Maud Gonne becomes the symbol of a nation’s destiny. A critic remarks in this connection. “But now it is charged with all his reading of destiny and history, that he translates in the last stanza of this poem, the meaning he had dimly understood in that tomb-haunting eye.” Maud not only determined the destruction of her (Destiny but also of her own Ireland.

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