No Second Troy: by W. B. Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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Summary

      Lines 1-5. Yeats says about Maud Gonne. Why should I blame her (Maud Gonne) for filling the days of my life with misery? I can blame her neither for this nor for the fact that she recently showed that she was capable of inciting ignorant men to resort to the utmost violence and imposing little men against the great (hurling little streets upon bigger streets). If only they had as much of courage in their souls as they hand of desire in themselves. In other words, her oratory was capable of inciting people to extreme violence. The only trouble was that those people’s courage did not live up to their desires.

      Lines 5-10. The poet says that blaming her for all this is useless because things just could not have been otherwise. When she possesses the beauty of a kind which being high, solitary and very stem is something rare in this age; when her beauty is like a tightened bow and her mind which due to its nobleness has the simplicity and zeal of time, nothing could have made her remain peaceful. All this oratory, this zeal and its inciting were things which just could not have been helped with the kind of gifts she possessed.

      Lines 11-12. With all these gifts she was capable of burning another Troy had there been one for her to bum. In other words, her beauty and stature are no less than those of Helen who was responsible for the burning of Troy. Only there is no second Troy for her to hum. Being what she is, she just could not have behaved in any other way. That is why I see no justification for my blaming her either for the disaster she has caused in my life or for the violence she has incited in other people.

Critical Explanation

L. 1. Her—Maud Gonne whom Yeats loved.
L. 1-2. Filled my days with misery—These words allude to the feet of Maud Gonne’s turning down the poet’s proposal of marriage. Yeats was deeply in love with her. Maud’s refusal caused him great agony.
L. 3. Ignorant men—unsophisticated Irish people.
L. 3. Most violent ways—to take to violent or destructive path.
L. 4. Hurled the little streets upon the great—incited the people to revolt against the authority ‘little streets’ stand for the ‘Irish masses’ or ‘the common man of Ireland.’ It is expressive of the Poet’s contempt for the common man of Ireland for being misguided by the revolutionaries. By the term ‘great’ is meant to the ‘people in authority.’
L. 7. Nobleness—It expresses Maud Gonne’s nobility of soul and the selfless devotion to the cause of the Irish people.
L. 7. Simple—refers to the single-minded devotion of Maud Gonne to the cause of the people of Ireland. Such devotion is a sign of the simplicity and the nobility of her soul.
L. 8. Tightened Now this image is used to describe the beauty of Maud Gonne which had a certain sternness about it and which had become a part of her personality because of her unrelenting struggle against the people in authority.
L. 10. High and solitary and most stern—These words describe Maud’s personality.
L. 11-12. Why, what could she "to bum"—In ancient times, it is said, Troy was destroyed because of Helen. The implication of these lines is that although Maud Gonne was another Helen, she could not, in the changed circumstances, cause another Ti-ojan war. In the changed circumstances she could only cause useless bloodshed and anarchy.

Critical Analysis

Introduction

      No Second Troy is a typical poem. It is among the most powerful poems written by Yeats about Maud Gonne. The title makes it clear that he equates her with Helen, the destructive Greek beauty. This is another poem representative of Yeats’s attempt to present his relations with people and events connected with his personal life in poetic terms. At the same time, No Second Troy is a good example of how Yeats was able to use Greek mythology to great advantage for poetic purposes. It remains a masterpiece of controlled rhetoric used to express intense passion in a dramatic and indirect way. The way the poem blends tribute with comment is most remarkable. All these make No Second Troy the most memorable poem from the volume called The Green Helmet and Other Poems which was published in 1950. The momentum and driving force of the poem are really tremendous.

Development of Thought

      Yeats begins the poem very subtly freeing Maud Gonne from the charge of ruining his life and of inciting the Irish masses to violence. At the same time it becomes clear that Yeats constantly remained aware of the emotional harm she had done to his life. The opening lines also make a hint that though Yeats does not blame her for all this yet he does not altogether approve of what Maud Gonne kept doing on the Irish political scene.

      Yeats says that Maud Gonne had lately shown that she was capable of making men so violent as to incite the masses against the aristocracy but this he says is not so much her fault. Being what she is, she cannot be peaceful because she has a mind full of nobleness and simplicity and her beauty is like a tightened bow—high and solitary and most stem—phenomena which in the present age is hard to find.

      Yeats concludes the poem by saying that she could not have done otherwise being what she is. Had there been another Troy for her to bum, she had it in her occasion to its burning in much the same way as Helen was responsible for the burning of the city of Troy.

Style

      The poem shows a remarkable mastery over rhetoric and over the rhyme scheme. The first line rhymes with the third one, the second line rhymes with the fourth, fifth with seventh, sixth with eight, ninth with eleventh and tenth with twelfth. At the same time, the framing and posing of rhetorical questions are handled with great dexterity and skill. Moreover, the poem as a whole, is one sustained movement very well supported by the passionate syntax. The colloquial style of the poem is very striking.

Critical Opinion

      In his essay ‘The Uses of Yeats Poetry’ in the ‘Twentieth Century Literature in Retrospect.’ William H. Pritchard has this to say about No Second Troy: “Undeniably the poems have become craftier; the rhetorical interrogative is exploited with great suppleness...the complicated and subtle structure of No Second Troy is strongly syntactical. Its strength will brook no opposition, no qualification. The beauty of this poem and is one of the best of the Yeats is indeed, like a tightened bow”

Critical Comments

      These lines not only pay a glowing tribute to the beauty of Maud Gonne but also point to the destructive power of beauty. The effectiveness of these lines is enhanced by the form of these lines take i.e., the form of a rhetorical questions.

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