Yeats states the position he is in as being at the “bottom of a pit”, where the “broad moon” never “lit”. This can be interpreted as Yeats’ idea of death, somewhere which seems to be enclosed and trapped, where sunlight cannot reach. Yeats then describes the cycle of shouting “a secret’ to “a stone”, a stone is associated with something very fixed and enduring, and is therefore unable to respond, Yeats is comparing the stone to the people of Ireland, whom are not listening to him. Yeats also presents death as a very slow, but inevitable process, as he states that he lies “awake night after night’.
Yeats is accepting that the process is occurring, however the tone reveals that Yeats is not happy about the inevitability of what is to come. This poem, written in 1938, was at the latter stage of Yeats’ life, and therefore was very close to his actual death. The poem is very similar to Broken Dreams in which Yeats discusses the decaying beauty of Maude, his muse. Yeats states “there is ere in your hair”, stating the obvious effect that ageing has had on her. He also states “your beauty can but leave among us”, by using the word “us”, Yeats is presenting the reader with the effect that death has on others, not just the victim.
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This is used in the same way that the slow ageing of Yeats, has meant that no one is able to hear him, or appreciate his work anymore. Yeats explores the passing of time, through being rather skeptical, as he begins to question his life and his effect on others. Yeats states “all he has said and done” has turned into “a question”. The process of change has caused Yeats to completely question his responsibility and what he has achieved, and how this has affected others. Many of the questions that Yeats ask link to Ireland at the time. His questioning if “that play of” his, sent “out certain men the English shot? , this is a direct reference to the Easter Rising, which Yeats also explored in Easter 1 916, in which he had a rather cynical view of the uprising. Yeats also questions the Marmot Rudders affair, as he asks if “words of” his put ‘too great strain” on ‘that woman’s brain”. Yeats had previously had an affair with Marmot, following which she become mentally unstable. Yeats then questions whether he caused her illness to occur. The questions end as Yeats states that he will “never get the answer right”, in which the echo replies “lie down and die”.
Yeats concept of life has been reversed, the passing of time has caused him to question everything. The use Of the context Of his life also allows the reader to understand that Yeats was contemplating whether the effect he had on people was completely bad. This also links to the echo’s ply of “lie down and die”, the echo is being rather cynical and using this as an imperative. This suggests that Yeats has no control over what the echo says, and this could reflect how Yeats feels, that which he cannot control how his work or efforts have been received by others.
Yeats also explores his possible immortality through his work, or his purpose in the world. Yeats refuses to accept the echo’s order, to simply “lie down and die”, possibly because he believes that no matter what one does, there is “no release”. He seems to suggest that to take the echo’s orders, would be to give up. The break in the poem before and after the echo’s comment, would suggest that it is broken, however it still adds a sense of continuity due to the end rhymes of “shirk” and ‘Fork”.
Therefore, Yeats does not break, as he believes that if he were to give up, then that would be to “shirk the spiritual intellects great work”, which would then “shirk it in vain”. Yeats is saying that he believes one has a responsibility to not give up. The use of “great work”, could possibly be referring to his writing, and his belief that he needed to present his beliefs to the public, as it was his duty as a writer. Yeats describes how other people choose to pursue their lives throughout the second stanza.
He describes the temptations of life as being “wine or love”, and Yeats seems to be mocking those who are drugged “to sleep” by these things, yet how they continue to “thank the Lord” that they have their “body and its stupidity’. Perhaps, Yeats his suggesting that he has led his own life in a far better way, and he has used his duty in society to help others, possibly suggesting that he doesn’t want to die. Mortality is somewhat destroyed towards the end, as Yeats begins to issues the state of death, and his final conclusion of the change and time that has occurred.
Yeats ends his stream of consciousness, believing one “sinks at last” into the “night’. The use of “sinking’ seems to suggest a peaceful passing, which is supported by “at last”, something that Yeats had been looking forward to. This is supported, by the slow and controlled pace created by the meter of the poem. The questioning is continued as he asks what the others know, apart from that they “face one another in “this place”, this place possibly referring to heaven. Yeats is reaching the end of his life, ND is now looking forward and is beginning to try and find out what truly happens.