A Prayer For My Daughter: by W. B. Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza I

      A terrible, violent storm is raging outside. This “haystack and roof-leveling wind,” blowing directly from the Atlantic is obstructed, by just one naked hill and the woods of Gregory’s estate. While my infant daughter sleeps in her cradle, well covered and protected from the onslaughts of the violent storm raging outside, I have kept pacing up and down and praying for my daughter because there is a storm raging within my soul as well. My mind is full of foreboding for the future of humanity.

Stanza II

      The shrill sound of the sea-wind upon the tower and below the arches of the bridge which connects the castle with the main road, and in the elms above the flooded river is heard by me. I have been praying for my young daughter for an hour and I am disturbed by the shrill sound of the sea-wind. My mind is haunted with fear. In the excitement and fear, I imagine that the future years have come out of the sea (“the murderous innocence of the sea”) dancing to the frenzied beat of drum (the shrill noise of the sea-wind). So, like an affectionate father, I pray for my daughter.

Stanza III

      I pray that my daughter may be ‘granted beauty’ but not so much of it that it disturbs and distracts others. Women who are beautiful, begin to take it as an end in itself Such women, forget their ‘natural kindness’ and are unable to respond to the advance of even the sincere love. Thus, they ultimately fail to find a suitable life partner. (The reference obviously is to Maud Gonne, who was very beautiful and who had rejected Yeats’s proposal of marriage to marry MacBride, a worthless person).

Stanza IV

      Helen, the daughter of Zeus and Leda, was a very beautiful woman. She eloped with Prince Paris of Troy, the outcome of which was the destruction of Troy. Aphrodite (Venus) too, who ‘rose out of the spray’ married Hephaestus, the lame iron smith of the gods unwisely and betrayed him later on. In the same manner Maud Gonne too had married very foolishly a worthless person as MacBride and was not happy with him. It seems certain that beautiful women eat something special which makes them proud and foolish and miserable, thus, becoming the cause of their undoing.

Stanza V

      I pray for my daughter that more than bewitching beauty, she should have virtues like courtesy. The hearts of people can be won permanently by the virtue of courtesy alone. Even those who are not very beautiful can win the hearts of others by being courteous. (Yeats’s wife was not very beautiful yet she won his heart). Like many others, I too had acted like a fool in the case of the bewitching beauty, Maud Gonne. I thought that she loved me as I loved her but very soon I found myself to be in the wrong. Ultimately, it was courtesy and not mere beauty that won my heart.

Stanza VI

      In continuance of the prayer, I plead that the soul of my daughter should flourish and reach self-fulfillment like a flourishing tree. Like the linnets, happy and innocent thoughts should cluster around her inner life. These little creatures, symbols of innocence and cheerfulness make others happy as well as by their songs. So, I wish my daughter to be happy within and infuse that happiness among others as well. The tree symbolizes inner life as well as constancy in place and a life rooted in tradition. I consider such a life to be a happy one and for this reason, I wish that my daughter’s life should be rooted in one place and in tradition as well.

Stanza VII

      On looking into my own mind and heart, I find hatred within myself because of the experience of my life and the sort of beauty I loved. To me hatred is the worst of all evils. I pray for my daughter that she should be free from such an evil. If the soul is free from hatred, no misfortune can possibly ruin the innocence and cheerfulness of a person.

Stanza VIII

      I feel that intellectual hatred is the worst kind of hatred and a great flaw in character. So, I would like my daughter to shun strong or stubborn opinions on any subject—political or otherwise. I would like my daughter to avoid the weaknesses of Maud Gonne. It was because of her strongly held opinions that Maud Gonne was led to act foolishly. All her beauty and her good upbringing proved to be useless. She ruined her happiness in life by choosing a worthless person as John MacBride for a husband.

Stanza IX

      If my daughter is free from all intellectual hatred, she will be capable of enjoying an inner peace and happiness. In such a case her soul will be able to find its fulfillment within itself and not in working on the happiness of others as Maud Gonne was prone to do. Thus, she would be able to keep herself happy even in the midst of misfortune and the hostility of the world.

Stanza X

      I pray that my daughter may be married in a good, aristocratic family. I hope she would get a husband from such a family who would take her to a house where life is led in the aristocratic tradition i.e” where life is based on high, spiritual values. Arrogance and hatred should be absent from such a house because only in the atmosphere of custom and ceremony, can innocence and real beauty flourish. Arrogance and hatred is the trait of the masses or the commoners. The aristocratic way of life, however, is rooted in custom and tradition—culture preserve spiritual values and is itself preserved by ceremony and tradition.

Explanation: L. 13-16

      Imaging excited reverie .....murderous innocence of the sea. These lines from A Prayer for my Daughter begins by talking of the poet’s gloom when he contemplates on the future of his daughter who is sleeping in the cradle. The poet keeps walking and praying for the young child and as he does so he is in a state of reverie. He feels a kind of gloom and worry about the future of his daughter. He says (As I walk and pray for my young daughter) I imagine in a state of excitement and reverie that the future years (years of violence, bloodshed and frenzy) have already come and that they seem to come dancing to the accompaniment of a drum which is beating frantically. These future years are seen by Yeats’s imagination as emerging out of the murderous (treacherous) innocence of the sea. In other words, the sea seems to be innocent but is capable of giving birth to those howling storms which are capable of leveling everything.

Critical Comments

      These lines express Yeats’s attachment and concern for his young daughter. More than that they point to the possibility of the future years being of bloodshed and violence. This is a prophesy which is visualized more pointedly in The Second Coming.

Explanation: L. 17-24

      May she be granted beauty.....never find a friend. These lines form part of W.B. Yeats’s A Prayer for My Daughter. Before this Yeats has been talking of the dangers he visualizes for his young daughter. These lines tell us as to what are the things he wants his daughter to possess so that she can face the future years with confidence and independently. Yeats says: “Let her be given beauty but a more important thing is that her beauty should not be of a kind which may either make her proud of her beauty or distract a stranger’s mind and eyes. The trouble with such people (those whose beauty is capable of making them proud of oneself and of distracting people’s minds) is that being excessively beautiful they start considering beauty as an end in itself. The result is that this pride leads to their losing natural kindness and in some cases of that heart-revealing intimacy which helps them to make the right choices in life. Being able to make the right choice in life is a very important thing but those who have excessive beauty are unable to do so and never find a good friend in the true sense of the word.”

Critical Comments

      These lines are a prayer on Yeats’s parts not for his daughter alone but for most daughters. The great thing about these lines is that they have a specific as well as general applicability. At the same time, the lines make an indirect reference to Maud Gonne also whom Yeats loved so much and yet could not win her hand.

Explantion: L. 57-64

      An intellectual hatred bellows full of angry wind. These lines are from the poem A Prayer for My Daughter by W.B. Yeats. After having told us which things he wants his daughter to possess so as to face the future confidently. Yeats now comes to talk of those things which he does not want her to possess. Yeats says: “An intellectual hatred is the worst thing that any person can be obsessed with. That is why I want her (my daughter) to consider opinion (i.e., having an opinionated or prejudiced mind) as something accursed. Yeats considers having an opinionated mind as a very bad thing because in his opinion, even Maud Gonne went astray only due to having such a prejudiced mind with preconceived likes and dislikes. Otherwise (Yeats. says) she is a woman who can be said to be the loveliest woman born right out of the mouth of the Hom of Plenty. Only due to having an opinionated i.e., prejudiced mind this woman (Maud Gonne) has bartered (i.e., thrown away) the Hom of Plenty and all other things which people with quiet natures consider good. And all this for what? Just for an old bellows (an apparatus for supplying a strong blast of air to fire) which is full of nothing but angry wind i.e” fierce political propaganda. In other words, Maud Gonne has set aside better things of life in favor of angry political propaganda.”

Critical Comments

      These lines serve as an indication not only of things Yeats did not like his own daughter to have but they also reflect his general attitude to political fanaticism and beliefs. At the same time, these lines equate the better things of life with the Horn of Plenty. Like the Tower, the Hom of Plenty has for Yeats's rich symbolic associations and A Prayer for My Daughter is remarkable for Yeats’s dexterous manipulation of symbolism.

Critical Analysis


      A Prayer For My Daughter is personal poem which reflects the gloom of the poet and his fear of a stormy future. The poem was written after the First World War and it reflects the post-war frustration. The war ended in 1919 but Ireland remained disturbed. His infant daughter Annie Butler Yeats, born in 1919, will have to face the challenges of the future. How best could she face the struggles of life? The poet things of some qualities or traits of character which can sustain her in the future and make her life joyful and happy. The poem was written in 1919, and it appeared in the volume entitled Michael Robarts and The Dancer (1921).

Development of Thought

      The poet expresses concern for his infant daughter who is fast asleep in a cradle. The storm’s blowing outside and it makes the poet gloomy. How will his daughter face the world which is becoming coarse and vulgar day by day? He imagines the war-drums which forecast the struggle for survival. The cruelty of man is greater than the murderous innocence of the sea. She must have a shield for protection. The shield stands for the qualities which the poet wants his daughter to cultivate. The poet wishes her to have beauty but not vanity. Great beauties like Helen—which here represents his girlfriend Maud Gonne and Venus, the Goddess of love stumbled into unhappy marriages on account of lack of courtesy and humility. Maud Gonne married Mac Bride, a drunkard and a worthless fellow as Venus chose lame god, Hephaestus as her husband. The poet wants his daughter to cultivate courtesy. A man who marries an inferior beauty may find his reward, in the courtesy and kindness of her heart. This is more important than the physical beauty of a woman which catches the eye of a lover.

      The third quality which the poet wants her to cultivate is natural gladness which means the scattering of happiness and peace around. He gives the image of the growing laurel tree which gives comfort to all. One thing which he wants her to avoid is hatred. Hatred is the worst of all evils. The mind which is free from hatred can face the storms and misfortunes of the world. Intellectual hatred is the worst of all. The poet mentions Maud Gonne—a paragon of beauty who has wasted her aristocratic traditions in political arguments. If hatred is replaced by innocence and purity it can bring joy and consolation to the individual. It will give his daughter an inner peace which cannot be disturbed by misfortune, agitation or opposition.

      The poet wishes that his daughter may grow up and get married in an aristocratic family which observes traditional manners and courtesies. There is too much of arrogance and hatred in the common masses today. Beauty and innocence come from established custom and usage. ‘Ceremony’ is like the Hom of Plenty and custom is like the growing laurel tree providing shade and comfort to all. The poet’s love for a traditional aristocratic life is quite obvious. This is the way of life which he wants his daughter to follow. His own experiences with the Irish masses had sadly disillusioned him. However, he had received sympathy—that of Lady Gregory. The aristocracy was for him a custodian of culture and moral values.

A Question of Values

      The critics have commented on Yeats’s love of tradition and custom. He has not prayed for Christian virtues for his daughter. He has only wished for certain abstract qualities—like innocence, freedom, kindness and gladness. He had not mentioned how these qualities can be built up. The ideas that he offers, appear theoretical. How such ideas can be realized in an age of democracy and competition, is a question which he does not concern himself with. He has only formulated what Wilson calls “an essentially non-Christian order, whose key-note is a man’s sense of his own nobility and self-sufficiency.” The poet has expressed his faith in tradition and ceremony but in a world of changing values it may be very difficult to preserve them under the stream of modem civilization. The poet is rather idealistic and has not addressed himself to the challenges which the world is facing today.


      The poem contains ten stanzas of eight lines each in the couplet pattern. It appears to be quite simple but the poet has enriched it with certain images. The violence of nature—thunderous innocence of the sea is symbolic of the violence of man which is calculated and inexorable. The poet gives many examples of great beauties like Helen who represents Maud Gonne, Venus whose beauty was proved disastrous for them. There are some images from nature also. The wind and tree image is to be found throughout. First stormy wind outside, and then the Hom of Plenty is transformed into a windy instrument. Maud Gonne has taken “old bellows Rill of angry wind.” The spreading laurel-tree, which stands for tradition and customs is mentioned twice. The intellectual hatred, as of Maud Gonne brings its own punishment—and the innocence and courtesy can, however serve as a refuge or shelter against every “windy quarter” or “bellows burst.” All these symbols give great significance to the thoughts expressed in the poem. One may be tempted to say that the poem contains “rich stores in a little room.”

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