In Memory of Major Robert Gregory: Summary & Analysis

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Stanza I

      Now that we (Yeats and his wife) have almost settled in our house. I remember some of my friends who cannot sup with us by the side of a fire of turf in the ancient tower of this house as they are dead. After having talked till late hours of the night we will climb the winding narrow stairs and go to bed. All such friends are in my thoughts today whether they were discoverers of forgotten truths or mere companions of my youth.

Stanza II

      We always prefer our new friends to meet the old friend and if either of the two seems cold we feel hurt. Then there and other things which act like salt on the hearts and the affections of our heart. On that score sometimes big quarrels come up. But today it is all different. None of the friends I am going to recall today can set us quarreling because all the friends coming into my mind today are already dead.

Stanza III

      The first person who comes to my mind is Lionel Johnson. He was a person who loved his learning better than he loved mankind. He was, nevertheless, courteous even to the worst people. He kept on thinking deeply about sanctity as he experienced quite a lot of falling. A stage came when all his Greek and Latin learning seemed to be a kind of long blast upon the horn. This brought him a little nearer to the measureless consummations he had thought of and dreamt of.

Stanza IV

      Next I think of John Synge who was an enquiring man and for whom the living world served as the text till the day of his death. He would never have rested even in his tomb but for the fact that he had traveled quite long and night-fall ultimately had come upon a race which was passionate and simple like his heart. It was at nightfall that he came to a most desolate stony place and a different set of people.

Stanza V

      The next person that comes to my mind is George Pollexfen who was famous among Mayo men for his muscular youth. He was also famous for his horsemanship at horse-meets and at race courses. He was a man capable of showing by his own example that pure bred horses and solid men live by opposition mainly. They shine by contrast and if the opposition is weak they became slow and contemplative.

Stanza VI

      All these people (Lionel Johnson, John Synge and George Pollexfen) were my close companions for quite a few years. They were as if a portion of my mind and life. Now that they are dead, their faces seem to peep out of some old picture book. Their lack of breath (i.e., the fact of there being no more alive) is something I have got used to by now but some how the loss of my dear friend’s dear son (Robert Gregory, son of Augusta Gregory) is something I am yet to get used to. He was our Sidney and our perfect man.

Stanza VII

      The remarkable thing about him (Major Robert Gregory) was that he loved and took delight in all the things which give delight to our eyes. These included the old trees broken by the storm which cast their shadows upon the road and the bridge. These things also included the tower on the edge of the stream and the ford where every night cattle drinking water create a stir. The sound created by them made the water then change her ground. Had he, Major Robert Gregory been alive, he would have been your heartiest welcomer.

Stanza VIII

      Few people were able to match his speed when he rode from Castle Taylor to the Esserkally Plain on the Roxbrough side along with the Galway fox-hounds. Once he had leaped along with his horse at such a dangerous place at Mooneen that half of the astonished people present had closed their eyes. And once, he rode a horse for a race without a hit (the iron portion of a horse’s bridle which is put in the horse’s mouth) though I do not remember exactly where it was. And yet the most interesting thing is that his mind was always faster than the horses he rode i.e., he had a very quick mind and imagination.

Stanza IX

      Our dream was that in him (Major Robert Gregory) a great painter had been born to us in Clare and Galway with its cold rocks and thorns and with its stem colors and delicate lines which have always been a kind of secret discipline for us. The gazing heart doubles the power, this area exercises over the imagination as discipline and as inspiration. He was a soldier, a scholar and a horse man and yet his intensity was such that his demonstration of these abilities were enough to delight the whole world.

Stanza X

      No other person except him could have explained to us all the lovely intricacies of a house because he practiced and understood everything concerning metal, wood, molded plaster and carved stone. He was a soldier, a scholar, and a horseman all in one. Everything he did was done so perfectly that it seemed as if that particular thing was his sole preoccupation or trade.

Stanza XI

      Some people bum small bundles of sticks, others are capable of consuming the entire world of things worth burning in one small room as though it were dried straw. When we turn round, we find that the bare chimney has become blackened out because the work was all over in the one flare. He (Major Robert Gregory) was a soldier, a scholar and a horseman all in one as if he were the epitome of existence at all levels. How could we have even dreamt that he would live long enough to grow old (comb grey hair)?

Stanza XII

      My original intention was to think of all those people who were tested by manhood, loved by childhood or approved (proved worthy) by boyish intellect. I wanted to do this in view of the bitterness of the wind which is shaking and shuttering. I also wanted to give some appropriate commentary on each of these persons and imagination would have brought a fitter welcome. But the very thought of this later death (that of Major Robert Gregory) takes all my heart for speech away and I am unable to proceed any further.

Critical Comments

      These lines are not only a glowing tribute to the memory of Major Robert Gregory whom Yeats admired greatly but also a proof of Yeats’s skill at making great out of personal emotions and memories.

Critical Analysis


      In Memory of Major Robert Gregory is a poem which Yeats himself regarded as one of his finest accomplishments. Much of the power of the poem comes from the fact that the element of sincere feeling in the poem is really extraordinary. More than that, Yeats’s achievement also lies in making Major Robert Gregory, son of Lady Gregory the symbol of the enormous defeated possibilities inherent in the youth who got killed in war. At the same time Yeats in this poem is able to perfect his handling of the conversational tone. Also significant is the elegiac note of the poem.

      The poem assembles a group of people and yet focuses intently on one person outside the speaker. At the same time though the tone of the poem remains public, yet human feelings and responses are brought into play in an admirable way. The poem succeeds in being intensely personal and subjective in that it recreates things and people that fate had snatched away.

      The poem presents an awakening from a dream, in the interests of a vision of reality. The poem moves towards a conclusion where Major Robert Gregory becomes an image, a pure spirit who understood ‘All lovely intricacies of houses’ in his undivided, unified being.

Development of Thought

      The First Two Stanzas deal with Yeats’s recent settling in his new house and with his thoughts about dead friends. These two stanzas are quite conversational and are in the form of a chat with the new bride about the complexities of friendship for the sake of which even the most happily married, couple quarrel. The friends he now remembers cannot set them quarreling as they are already dead.

      The Third Stanza brings in Lionel Johnson as the first of these friends. Lionel Johnson delighted in abstract thought and. “loved his learning better than mankind.”

      The Fourth Stanza talks of John Synge whose heart was simple and passionate and for whom the living world was the main theme. The Fifth Stanza brings in George Pollexfen who in his youth was well known for his love of and knowledge about horses. George Pollexfen’s horsemanship was famous all around.

      In the Sixth Stanza, Yeats says that he had got used to the fact of these people’s deaths but somehow he cannot reconcile himself to the death of Major Robert Gregory whom he calls “our perfect man.” The following four stanzas from the VII to the X are devoted largely in praising the extraordinary qualities of Major Robert Gregory which he possessed in plenty. In the VII Stanza Yeats says that Major Robert Gregory loved all things which included the old storm broken trees and the ‘tower set on the stream’s edge.’ In the VIII Stanza Yeats pays a tribute to Major Gregory’s skill in horsemanship, and to his mind which ‘outran the horses’.

      The IX Stanza of the poem refers to Robert Gregory’s skill as a painter and then goes on to see him as ‘soldier-scholar-horseman’ all in one. The X Stanza tells us that Major Gregory did everything with such skill that it seemed he had but “one trade alone.”

      And yet, XI Stanza tells us, Major Gregory was ‘all life’s, epitome’ in that he combined the excellence of various people in himself And all this came to him in the single flare of his youth.

      The XII and last Stanza again brings together the faculties of the people whose excellence were combined in Major Gregory. John Synge was a person whom ‘manhood tried.’ George Pollexfen was a person whom ‘childhood loved’ and Lionel Johnson was a person whom ‘boyish intellect approved.’

      Yeats concludes the poem by saying that his capacity for speech has been taken away by the death of Major Robert Gregory.


      In terms of style, the most remarkable achievement of the poem is its ability to maintain a tone of restrained intensity. And then, the poem has a special roundedness which comes from the poem ending where it began i.e., in stillness. The formal elaboration of the poem expresses an important part of its meaning: the terms on which we share in the remembered experience of those dead men. At the same time, in spite of being formal and elaborate, the style remains easy and humane. All the formality and conscious craftsmanship of the; poem, in one way, is a kind of mask on the face of grief. Yeats’s great success in the poem lies in giving to this elegy on Major Robert Gregory the tone of an obituary without damaging the generalized tone of the poem. In this sense, what the last stanza achieves is a kind of adjustment of attitude which only a great poet can achieve in an elegy.

Critical Opinion

      William H. Pritchard in The Use of Yeats’s Poetry from the Twentieth Century Literature in Retrospect says regarding In Memory of Major Robert Gregory: “if it consisted only of endless variations on what a splendid person Major Gregory was (‘Soldier, scholar, horsemen he and all he did, done perfectly) then the poem would have the limitations of conventional special pleading. It moves rather towards a conclusion where Gregory becomes an image, a pure spirit who understood all in his undivided, unified being.”

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