Death: by W. B. Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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Summary & Analysis

      Yeats’ time witnessed a great turbulence in the political scenario of Ireland. Leaders like Roger Casement, Arthur Griffith and Kevin O’ Higgins were then leading the country from the forefront. These revolutionaries were guided by their strong will and tough mind in their endeavor to attain the political goal. Among them Kevin O’ Higgins was considered a great man of intellect by Yeats himself. Kevin O’ Higgins was assassinated outside his home. Yeats dedicated this poem commemorating the death of this great patriot.

      The poem within its brief structure upholds the idea of immortality of great soul. A person ceases to exist physically after his death but continues to live spiritually. His great ideas inspire the following generations, his achievements mark the human capabilities. His influence cannot be effaced. In this context, death loses its significance. It is not threatening but becomes an object of mockery.

Critical Appreciation

      The poem Death by W. B. Yeats is written in the memory of great Irish leader and patriot Kevin O’ Higgins. It is published in the collection of poetry to ‘The Winding Stair and other Poems.’

Critical Explanation

L. 5-6. Many times again—Several attempts had been made to kill him and each time he narrowly escaped death.
L. 9. Derision—Mockery L. 10. Supersession of breath— Replacement of breath i.e. death.
L. 7-10. A great.....breath—The ‘great man’ is referred to Irish political leader Kevin O’Higgins. He was assassinated by men from opposition who are ‘murderous’. He was a great patriot and his fearless soul encountered many such previous attempts. He was not afraid of death. He simply mocked at it.
L. 11-12. He knows.....death—A truly knowledgable man knows that death does not signify the end of life. Death brings the end of physical existence but spiritual life continues to exist.

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