Artful Repetition in Yeats

What most interested me about Yeats was the repetition that artfully goes unnoticed in each of the poems. Its almost like a specific tone the speaker has, a select set of words the speaker uses as part of a tone instead of a heavy-handedly emphasized word (shout out to Edgar Allen Poe). The repetition is in service of a voice as opposed to a driving theme. Although this leads to a less didactic form of poetry, it creates a more fully formed speaker, subtly showing what the speaker is constantly thinking of.

The speaker in “Easter 1916” is plagued by change, birth, and death. Throughout the poem, there is imagery of life falling into disarray on an individual level. A woman’s voice and beauty withers away, a man devolves into a drunken mess, a long sacrifice that will never be worth it. The repeating lines at the end of the first, middle, and last stanzas are an little gift of themes wrapped up in two lines:

Are changed, changed utterly;

A terrible beauty is born.

WIlliam Butler Yeats, “Easter 1916”

“Utterly,” and “terrible,” are words of absolution. Ironically, they don’t yield any room for change. The speaker is sure throughout the poem that what is born will be terrible. Although there is no direct allusion to death, the terror in birth seems to point to the death of something else. When things change, there is a death of the old. The speaker is scared not of the unknown, but because he is so sure of the dissolution of what he knows.

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