News For The Delphic Oracle: by W. B. Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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Summary

Stanza I

      On the island of the Blessed, lay the golden fellows in the midst of silver dew. The great water murmured as it sighed for love and the wind sighed too. Niamh the beloved of Oisin—a man hunter, herself stooped and sighed in company of Oisin on the brass. Tall Pythagoras also stood there sighing amidst the hands of singing angels. Plotinus also came and once could see the salt-foam on his body as if much tired and lay down sighing like the others on the Island of the Blessed.

Stanza II

      The innocent people after their deaths, came riding astride the back of a dolphin and they steadied themselves with the help of a sin. They have to relive their lives mentally for self-purification. They have to resuffer and expiate for their sins. Their cries appear sweet in the midst of the happy waters. They dance in their old way till they are thrown by the savage dolphins in some cliff-sheltered bay. Here they listen to the choir of love and receive the offer of sacred laurel crowns and are, as such, relieved of their sinful past.

Stanza III

      A nymph strips a youth of nakedness. Here Peleus stares at his beloved Thetis whose limbs are as delicate as an eyelid. Love has blinded him with tears of joy. But Thetis is passionate and she listens to the sexy music coming from Pan’s Cavern across the mountain ranges. Dancing wildly with goat-head and brutal arms, the satyrs exhibit their shoulders, belly and buttocks which shine brightly. The nymphs and satyrs engage in sex in the midst of water.

Critical Analysis

Introduction

      In News For The Delphic Oracle the poet gives his own views of the Island of the blessed where the great men are supposed to have gone after death. This poem is included in the volume entitled Last Poems (1936—1939). From Porphyro’s Life of Plotinus, we learn that the friends of Plotinus went to the Oracle at Delphin to know the whereabouts of Plotinus. They were told that he had crossed the sea of Life and reached the Island of the Blessed without having undergone the purification process. The poet here imagines that he has visited the Island of the Blessed-Elysium and describes the scene like an eye-witness.

Development of Thought

      In the First Stanza the poet surveys the scene of Elysium and finds a number of great men resting amidst pleasant surroundings. The Goddess Niamh lies besides her lover Oisin and there is Plotinus who has just crossed the sea of Life. On his island there is either music or the sound of sighs. The winds and the water seem to sigh too. The poet vividly describes Plotinus who has salt foam on his body, as he stands yawning. He too sighs like others.

Process of Purification

      In the second stanza, the poet mentions some new arrivals on the island. They are carried on the back of dolphins. They have to undergo the process of purification, unlike Plotinus. They must mentally relive their past lives and must suffer again. They expatiate for their past sins. When they are purified, they are taken off by the dolphins in some bay where they are offered laurel crown in token of their purification.

The Function of Sex

      It is not possible for all who come to the Island of the Blessed to stay there permanently. Those whose love remains unrequited on earth will have their love fulfilled in heaven. Such was the love of Peleus for Thetis; this was a love between a mortal and Goddess. Their love was as pure as the poet’s love for Maud Gonne. Perhaps the poet believes that his pure love for Maud will be fulfilled in heaven. But Thetis is passionate and listens to the blissful music coming from the cave of Pan—the goat-footed God of lust. In this place nymphs and fawns dance and engage in sex. As such their soul will have to leave heaven after a while and be born again. The poet feels that the needs of the body have to be satisfied. Physical sex need, not be shunned. Even the gods enjoy it. Moreover, sex is necessary for generation and continuity of life. It has a place in the cycle of birth death-rebirth. There is a strain of truth and seriousness in all the flippancy and lewdness of the last stanza.

Style

      This is a poem of three stanzas of twelve lines each. The poem has been criticized as a “laughing, crying, sacred song”; lecherous song. Undoubtedly, the poet has glorified sex and ridiculed the great. However, if we dig deeper, we find the basic truth of life-death-rebirth underlying it. Moreover, the poem also emphasizes the needs of the body through glowing images—stripped belly, shoulder, bum. The last four lines are entirely in the praise of sex. The image of the innocents riding on the dolphin’s backs are extremely amusing. However, reference to mythology and classical literature reduce its value for a lay reader. The reference to Niamli, Oisin, Pythagoi-us, Plotinus, Peleus, Thetis and Pan, though artistic and suited to a poem for the Delphic Oracle require a scholarly background for its proper understanding. But myths, symbol and images are the stock-in-trade of a poet like Yeats. He wrote: “I must leave my myths and images to explain themselves as the years go by and one poem lights another.” It is said that the last stanza was inspired by Poussin’s picture entitled Marriage of Peleus and Thetis. The birth of Achillies was due to this marriage. Porphyro came to Nymphs who is called here the ‘Caver of Pan’. The blend of the heavenly and the bestial is a great characteristic of this poem.

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