Live Through Art

William Butler Yeats is by far one of the most influential poets of his time and maybe ever. From the many poems of his, we will discuss his last one, Under Ben Bulben. Wich was published in 1938, but he was working on the revise until his death night. Making this the death bed poem. Not many writers could say they will die doing what they loved, composing literature, but Yeats can (literally died while revising this poem). The title of this poem “Under Ben Bulben” refers to the reunion of Yeats (after his death) and his ancestors who lived in Ben Bulben (part of the Dartry Mountains) west of Ireland, Country Sligo.

Benbulbin, Cloyragh, Co. Sligo, Ireland. About 139.4 Miles from Dublin

We can see the tittle foreshadowing the final stanza of his poem.

“Under bare Ben Bulben’s head

In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,   

An ancestor was rector there

Long years ago; a church stands near,

By the road an ancient Cross.

No marble, no conventional phrase,   

On limestone quarried near the spot   

By his command these words are cut”

– William Butler Yeats

This stanza in a way provides/assures unity between Yeats and his ancestors (also art, as the driving force of his poetry, was Ben Bulben). These lines signify the importance of returning back to your roots, to where it all began, back to your ancestors and their home. It is crucial to Yeats that artist after him document the history of Ireland just like he did. He wants artists to compose works, not just the sake of having art and producing content, but he wants artists to create something meaningful. Something didactic to pass down generation to generation. Art that inspires, documents the history of Ireland, Weather it will be the history of Dublin or Sligo. The reason Yets want’s this, in my opinion, is so the people comprehend his philosophy of fearing death. His ideology that indicates something more complex other than existing and not existing (after death). It’s about the spirit and the soul that get to live on after one passes away. Moreover, the importance of reunion with previous generations in the afterlife to keep Ireland always great.

The final three lines of the poem;

“Cast a cold eye   
               On life, on death.   
               Horseman, pass by!”

are in inscribed on his tombstone.

These lines to me provide his mindset at the time of writing this poem (aware of his departure from life). He has watched many of his friends and family pass away, he knows it will be his turn soon. The lines promote optimism and positivity instead of fear, indicating that Yeats himself is ready to become a spirit and be side by side with his ancestors in their origin hometown. Yeats here is suggesting to his audience and more importantly to the people of Ireland (mostly artist) to not fear death, to create great works so when they do pass they get to live through what they composed. In a way, so people still talk about them after they are long gone (just like how I’m doing to Yeats right now).

1 Comment

  1. I agree with you reading of “Under Ben Bulben”. I like the idea that an artist lives on in their art. I do find a kind of American irony in someone getting back to their roots, while being so close to them.

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