Nineteen Hundred And Nineteen: by Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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Section I

Stanza I

      Many well-made lovely things which were protected, from the circle of the moon, which is around, common things are now gone. These things were nothing less than a miracle as far as the common masses were concerned. There was an ancient image made of the wood of olive tree which stood among the ornamental bronze and stone figures. Also gone are the famous ivories of Phidias and the golden grasshoppers (an insect) and bees are also no longer there.

Stanza II

      We also had many pretty toys like these when we were young and the possession of pretty toys when young is a thing which is not changed by blame, praise, bribing or threats. Habits made old wrong meltdown in the same way as wax melts down in front of the Sun’s rays. Public opinion, we thought would be very stable because it took such a long time to ripen. We used to think that the worst rogues and rascals had died out and what a thought it was when one considers what is actually happening now.

Stanza III

      There was a stage when all the things that could bite or harm were taken away (i.e., armaments were withdrawn) and all old tricks were forgotten even if no gun was turned into a plowshare. And then Parliament and the King started thinking that some gunpowder must be used because without that the trumpeting of trumpeters would not come to much. They were also aware of the danger that if this craze for doing away with war goes on, a stage may come when even the guardsmen’s horses would stop dancing or swinging on their hind-legs.

Stanza IV

      The situation now is just the reverse. Days are dragon-ridden (i.e., there is no peace). Sleep is signed by nightmares. Drunken soldiers are capable of getting away untouched even after murdering a mother and leaving her rolling in her own blood at her door. The nights have once again started trembling and sweating due to terror. We are just like weasels fighting in a hole and yet we tried to think in terms of one world i.e., a government for the whole world. We were trying to give a philosophic touch to our thoughts while all this was happening.

Stanza V

      For the person, who instead of sinking down in the face of all this of falling in the trap of intoxicated witticisms of shallow wits, there is only one comfort left. This comfort is that all triumph would leave his ghostly solitude untouched i.e., his ghostly solitude can face all this and still remain untouched. Such a person knows too well that whether a work is a masterpiece of intellect or of the hands it cannot stand howsoever much of health, wealth or peace of mind may have been spent on it.

Stanza VI

      But is there really any comfort one can rest assured of? Love is one thing man considers to be a comfort but man loves what vanishes. What more can one say? All around the country (we may not admit this thought at all even if this thought has been there) are incendiary people (those who bum public property maliciously) or bigots (those who are intolerantly attached to some creed). These people are capable of burning the stump of Acropolis, of breaking the famous art pieces of ivory or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.

Section II

Stanza VII

      The Platonic year whirls out new right and wrong and in its place whirls in old right and wrong. It is just like a floating ribbon of, cloth which was like a shining web falling among Luie Fuller’s Chinese dancers like a draught of air and whirling the dancers round or hurrying them off on its (the cloth) own furious path. Today, all men are as helpless as those dancers and their walk is controlled by the barbarous clamor (noise) of a gong (may he the gong of war).

Section III

Stanza VIII

      A moralist or a mythological poet has compared the soul to a swan. I do not object to that i.e., that satisfies me provided a troubled mirror can show it (the swan) an image of its state before the brief gleam of its life is over. The state of the swan before its death is that its wings are half spread for flight and its breast is thrust out in pride either to play or to ride those winds which give noisy indications of the approaching night (death).

Stanza IX

      A man is lost amidst a labyrinth of his own creation in art or politics and this send him in secret meditation. Some Platonists tell us that even at the stage when the soul is about to leave the body some of the old habits stick so that there is the danger of triumph spoiling the solitude of our soul after death. In the light of this, a lucky death for anyone is a death in which the works also vanish with death.

Stanza X

      The vision of the swan i.e., the soul leaping into the desolate heaven can bring wildness and even a rage which can end everything which my laborious life has imagined. This rage can end even the half-imagined and the half-written page. Most of our dreams were directed at mending or improving every mischief (misfortune) that seemed to afflict mankind but now we realize that we, when we dreamed, were crack headed. We realize the folly of having dreamed because now it is the winds of winter that are blowing.

Section IV

Stanza XI

      Seven years ago, we talked of honor and truth and today we start shrieking with pleasure by showing the weasel’s twist (unreliability) and the weasel’s tooth (cruelty).

Section V

Stanza XII

      (Yeats now invites the reader to mock at everything) Let us mock at the great people who toiled really hard and for long hours in order to leave some monument behind. This placed a heavy burden on their minds. The only trouble is that these people never thought of the wind that levels everything and every achievement.

Stanza XIII

      Let us mock at the so-called wise people who fixed their old aching eyes at calendars, yet these people could never really know how exactly seasons run. All they left to do is to gape at the sun.

Stanza XIV

      Now let us mock at those who went in for goodness in the hope that there may be some gaiety in goodness. They thought that in goodness there may be some kind of holidaying or getting away from things. Suddenly the winds of change which level everything shrieked and they (the god) are nowhere to be found.

Stanza XV

      Lastly, we must not spare mockers themselves. We must mock at them also. Those people probably would not have lifted a hand to help the wise or the great people. Their help perhaps may have kept that foul storm (winds of change) out but the trouble is that we all deal or indulge in mockery alone.

Section VI

Stanza XVI

      All around there is violence. There is violence on the roads, and then there is the violence of horses. The riders of some of these horses are handsome. Some of these horses have garlands on their delicate sensitive ears or their tossing manes. But none of these horses can escape getting tired as a result of running round and round in his course. This makes these horses break and vanish. Evil gathers force and momentum. It seems as if Herodias’s daughters (they stand for cruelty and extreme anarchy) have staged a comeback. There is a sudden blast of dusty wind and that is followed by thundering of feet, and a tumult of images. The purpose of all these feet and images is lost in the labyrinth of the wind. In such a situation if some crazy person dares touch a daughter, there are clamors of angry cries from all (depending upon the situation). All in fact are blind. Suddenly this leveling wind of change drops and this dust which has been raging all around settles. As that happens, one sees Robert Artison, that fourteenth-century insolent fiend staggering there. Just now the eyes of Robert Artisson, to whom the Lady Kyteler had brought red combs of her cocks and bronzed peacock feathers out of love, are without any thought and his stupid looking locks which are pale like straw hang over those big eyes of his.

Critical Analysis


      Yeats wrote quite a few poems which bring in violence as a theme. Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen is among the most powerful of such poems. It is a powerful poetic comment not only on the Irish situation of Yeats’s time but also on violence in general. At the same time, the poem expresses the mood of disenchantment and lament very admirably. Also, his comments on the horrors of war and the degradation of human nature are very appealing and effective. In this way Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen becomes not only a precise picture of the Irish Civil War but also of the larger international destruction of which it was an advance indicating.

Development of Thought

      Yeats begins by lamenting the disappearance of “many ingenious lovely things.” The second stanza talks of “pretty toys” or illusions which sustained Yeats’s generation when they were young. This stanza also mocks the folly of thought they once had that the worst rogues and rascals had died out. The third stanza talks of the things that followed in the wake of the short-lived illusion that wars a thing of the past.

      The fourth stanza is a powerful comment on the pathos and horror of war. It tells us how in war, drunken soldiers are capable of murdering a mother and leaving her crawling in her own blood at her door. All this can make the night sweat with terror.

      The fifth stanza shows Yeats’s search for some comfort and composure in the face of the destruction of not only familiar social institutions but also of the great works of art of the past. The sixth stanza poses the question: “But is any comfort to be found?”

      In the seventh stanza, Yeats brings in the imagery of the Swan which he says is seen by many as symbolizing the solitary soul. The special thing about the Swan is that, like the artist, it is able to see “an image of its state.”

      In the eighth stanza, Yeats says that a lucky death for the artist would be one in which his works vanish with his breath because “triumph can but mar our solitude.”

      The ninth stanza tells us that the image of the Swan leaping in the desolate heaven can bring a rage which can end all things. This stanza concludes by saying that dreams of mankind’s troubles getting removed are foolish.

      The tenth stanza talks of “the weasel’s twist and the weasel’s tooth” i.e., man’s basically crooked nature and the venom inherent in man.

      The eleventh stanza which is an invitation to mock at the great tells us that the ‘leveling wind’ i.e., the wind that reduces all achievements to nothing is something that should normally deter men from toiling hard to leave some monument behind.

      The twelfth stanza mocks at the wise, the thirteenth at the good and the fourteenth mocks at mockers themselves. Yeats concludes by saying that we are all ‘traffic in mockery.’

      The last section of the poem which constitutes a long verse passage sums up the war situation and the violence which is widespread. Evil, Yeats tells us, is gaining in strength.


      Technically, the most remarkable thing about Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen is its architectonic quality. Another remarkable achievement of the poem is its manipulation of symbols and images. The poem brings in a tumult to images which are at once brilliant and straightforward. The intellectual sweep of the poem and its vigor are also remarkable. The striking images which the last section of the poem contains also contribute to the final effect of the poem. Another notable thing about the poem is its powerful and passionate syntax.

Critical Opinion

      Graham Martin in his essay The. Later Poetry of W.B. Yeats from the Pelican Guide to English Literature Vol. 7, says about Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen: “Yeats’s audience, his capable listener was neither a fiction nor a coterie. It was a group for whom Ireland was the common theme—the public issue in terms of which Yeats could address himself as a poet and expect to he heard.”

Critical Comments

      These lines are a poignant poetic comment not on the horrors of war and on the unrealistic nature of idealism but also on the essential ugliness of human nature and the streak of cruelty which has always been a part of human nature.

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