The Municipal Gallery Revisited: by W. B. Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza I

      (The poem contains the impression of the poet on his visit to the Art Gallery on account of his friends).

      Around me I see the paintings which deal with the events of the best thirty years of Ireland. Here is a picture of a peasant ambush. There is a picture of the pilgrims at the water side; there is another picture of Roger Casement the revolutionary standing guarded behind the bars in the court room; there is a picture of Arthur Griffith looking grand in his patriotic pride; there is Kevin O’Higgins great intellectual whose gentle questioning cannot conceal his soul which is incapable of peace. There is another picture of an unknown revolutionary soldier kneeling to be blessed.

Stanza II

      Here is another picture of an Abbot or Archbishop blessing the tricolor flag (of the Irish movement), with an upraised hand. These pictures do not represent the dead Ireland of my youth but rather the tremble and joyful soul of Ireland fixed permanently in works of art. Suddenly, I stand before the portrait of a woman—Maud Gonne, my beloved—young and cultured according to Venetian standards. I met her about fifty years ago in the same studio for about twenty minutes.

Stanza III

      Overwhelmed with deep feeling, I sat down and covered my eyes to control my heart-surge. All around I could see my permanent, or impermanent images, representing my dreams. (Art is permanent, while the persons painted are impermanent). Here is the picture of Augusta Gregory’s son, here is a picture of Hugh Lane, her sister's son who collected all these paintings; here are two pictures of Hazel Lavery, one when she was alive and the other of her death like a ballad singer recounting the story of her life.

Stanza IV

      Here is portrait of Augusta Gregory painted by Marcini, the greatest painter since Rembrandt according to the opinion of John Synge, This is certainly a high spirited the animated portrait, but it cannot show any of the qualities of her great soul, namely pride of her heritage and humility of her disposition. Time in due course may bring new patterns of nobility and controversy but it cannot produce again the pattern of excellence embodied by Lady Gregory.

Stanza V

      Though knees in old age do not have vitality, still like a medieval knight I bend my knees before Lady Gregory. In her household, honor seemed to live forever and no needy person went back unsatisfied. When I was young and childless, I thought that my children will find in the house of Lady Gregory all firmly established customs and traditions, but I could never imagine that the noble household would come to an end. Now I have been the end of this family, I have not shed tears, because like Spenser I felt that no fox should be allowed to pollute the place which the dog had kept clean and neat.

Stanza VI

      This is an image borrowed from Spenser and from the language of the common people. John Synge, I and Augusta Gregory were inspired by the noble idea that whatever we did or said or sung must spring from our close content with the people of the soil and should be connected with their daily experiences. Art like Antaeous—the great mythological giant—can be strong only when it is connected with mother earth. We three, in modem times, were guided by that criterion—ontact with the people. This enables us to record the dreams of noble men and beggars on one and the same level.

Stanza VII

      Here is a portrait of John Synge, the man rooted in the soil, who forgot the idiom of sophisticated society. He was a man with a serious face concerned with the great problems of life. You (the reader) who would judge me (Yeats), do not judge me by my poems and plays; judge me by my friends whose portraits are hung in this holy picture gallery. You will be able to trace the phase and aspects of Irish history in these portraits. This is the place where man’s (the poet’s) glory begins and ends. My glory lies in the fact that I had such great and heroic men as my intimate friends.

Explanation Stanza 3

      These lines are from The Municipal Gallery Revisited by W.B. Yeats. In this poem, Yeats tells us about his reactions on revisiting the Muncipal Art Gallery in Dublin. There he sees the portraits of some of his closest friends. This fills him with emotions. Yeats says: My heart is almost choked with emotions as I look at the portraits of my friends. As I sink down due to excess of emotion, I try to recover my heart by covering my eyes. In the gallery wherever my eyes fall I find portraits of people whose images stay permanently or impermanently with me. There are portraits of Augusta Gregory’s son, her sister’s son and that of Hugh Lane who is the only person responsible for bringing all these portraits to the Muncipal Gallery at Dublin. Then there are two portraits, one showing Hazel Lavery (wife of the painter Lavery) living and the other showing her dying. The whole thing being so lively as if all this had been brought to life by the song of a ballad singer.

Critical Comments

      These lines are a good example of how much Yeats valued his friendships and how emotional he could become in these matters. The authenticity and the depth of the emotions expressed by Yeats here are really remarkable.

Critical Analysis


      The poem The Municipal Gallery Revisited was written in September 1937 and was included in the volume entitled Last Poems. Yeats threw light on the origin of the poem in a speech delivered on 17th August 1937 before a group of his Irish American admirers. He said: “I think that a good poem is forming in my head—a poem about the Ireland that we have all served, and the movement of which I have been a part. For a long time I have not visited the Municipal Gallery. I went there a week ago and was restored to my friends. I sat down, after a few minutes, overwhelmed with emotion. There were pictures painted by men, now dead, who were once my intimate friends. There were the portraits of my fellow-workers, there was that portrait of Lady Gregory, by Mancini, which John Synge thought the greatest portrait since Rembrandt; there was John Synge himself; there, too, were portraits of out statesmen; the events of the last thirty years in fine pictures; Ireland not as she is displayed in guide book or history, but the glory of her passions.” When he completed this poem on 5th September, 1937 he called it “one of my best poems.” Two important ideas emerge from this poem namely that art should give a permanent form to impermanent things, and secondly all art should be rooted in the soil, must deal with the everyday experience and actions of the common man. As Yeats goes through the picture gallery, the scene of the last thirty years of Irish history come before his mind’s eye, particularly the personalities and actions of patriots who took part in the freedom struggle. Lady Gregory, Synge and Maud Gonne stand out prominent, because of their close and continued association with the poet. The poet requests the readers that in the ultimate reckoning, his poetic works should be considered in the light of the activities of his friends who were the makers of modem Ireland.

Development of Thought

      The poet’s visit to the picture gallery enables him to recall the great events and figures of the last thirty years in which he himself had played a substantial role. Then he mentions one by one the news of great patriots, whose portraits are hung on the walls and who died in the struggle for freedom of Ireland. These prominent personalities are Roger Casement, Arthur Griffith and Kenvit O’ Higgins. He notes the individual characteristics of each of these heroes, which he finds depicted in their pictures. Then there are two more pictures, one of a soldier kneeling to be blessed and the other of an Abbot or Archbishop saluting the tricolor—the flag of the Irish National Movement.

      The poet is overcome by emotion when he comes across the portrait of his patroness Lady Gregory and her relatives. Hugh Lane collected these pictures and gave them to the glory. Hazel Lavery's two beautiful pictures relate her career in a ballad. The best portrait of Lady Gregory Augusta is by Mancini and even it cannot show her high spirit and humility. She is gone and the poet’s dream of making his own children learn from that great lady could never be realized. The great and noble families of Ireland have come to an end.

Contact with the Common People

      The poet and his two friends—Lady Gregory and John Synge were rooted in tradition and whatever they did was inspired by contact with the common people. Their actions were guided by the good of the people—the high and the low, the rich and the poor. They were the preservers of national culture. He and John Synge always used the real language and idiom of the people—because they were so close to the hopes and aspirations of the Irish masses. The poet ultimately would like to be judged not by his poems or plays but by his activities in support of the freedom-struggle and his association with the great architects of national freedom. Irish history is an I account of the achievements of patriots in different fields—poetry art, folk-lore, politics, social reform and he would like to share the ‘glory’ of the makers of history of his country.


      It is a poem of seven stanzas of eight lines each. The poet records the events of the Irish National Movement and those who took part in it. Thus, the poem is like a picture gallery of the Irish freedom struggle. There are lots of images—the Genetian beauty of Maud Gonne, poet’s heart recovering with covered eyes (L. 18), the poet’s medieval knees (L.33) bending before his patroness, the poet’s dream of the noble and the beggar-man (L.48). Two important references however, deserve attention. The story of the fox and the badger in line 40 has a reference to Yeats’s Essays on Spenser where he praised Spenser’s devotion to the Earl of Leicester. Spenser had lamented that unworthy men should be living in the dead Earl’s place—the fox in the place of the badger. Obviously, the poet has in mind his own patroness—Augusta Gregory. The second reference is in line 45—“everything Antaeus like grew strong.” Antaeus, the mythological giant retained his vigor so long as his body was in touch with the earth. Hercules lifted him up in the air and as such Antaeus lost all his vigor and was strangled by Hermes. In the same way, all art (including poetry) like Antaeus derives its strength from contact with the people—‘‘contact with the soil”, where art loses this contact, it becomes sterile and lifeless. Altogether, it is a beautiful poem and it amply justifies the poet’s claim as one of his best poems.

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