Poems of W.B. Yeats: The Tower

Poems of W.B. Yeats: The Tower Essay Questions

  1. 1

    There are many images of discord and unrequited love in this collection. Where are the examples of harmony and union? How does Yeats think these might be achieved?

    Possible Answer: "Sailing to Byzantium" presents a model for fulfillment, however mystical and fantastic it may seem. The aged speaker transmutes into a mechanical bird in a seemingly female-free world, and thus achieves union with history.

  2. 2

    Leaving aside "Nineteen Hundred Ninety Nine" and "Meditations in a Time of Civil War," which of these poems comments on contemporary political problems in Ireland?

    Possible Answer: "Among Schoolchildren" comments on the post-Civil War political situation in Ireland. Yeats makes the time period explicit by stating that he is a senator. He is no longer wrapped up with war, but with the nation's future, symbolized in the poem by children. Yeats was a strong advocate for Irish language learning in schools at this juncture in Irish history.

  3. 3

    What purpose does the extreme use of enjambment in "Sailing to Byzantium" serve? What other literary devices does Yeats use in this poem?

    Possible Answer: Enjambment evokes a feeling of breathlessness in this poem, which can variously be attributed to an old man's broken speech, or his breathless excitement at finding a way to preserve himself. Yeats also makes heavy use of metaphor, rather than simile. This makes the fantastical images of the poem ever more real.

  4. 4

    Using "All Saint's Day" as a starting point, discuss Yeats' allegiance to theosophy and his use of religious imagery in this collection.

    Possible Answer: "All Saint's Day" exposes a mythical, even superstitious side of the poet. This harkens back not only to Yeats' theosophy - accompanied as it was by séances and spirit tappings - but also to the tradition in the Irish countryside of believing in fairies and spirits. "A Prayer for my Son," alternatively, displays a much more traditional belief.

  5. 5

    Many of these poems struggle with Yeats' own aging. "Among Schoolchildren" alone addresses the aging of the woman he loves. How does the tone differ?

    Possible Answer: Whereas Yeats is bitter and cynical about his own aging process, he imagines that of his loved one in rosier tones. This illustrates Yeats' belief that it may be easier to watch others age than to witness the process in the mirror.

  6. 6

    Compare and contrast the mythological and realistic imagery in "A Man Young and Old." Is there any pattern in the juxtaposition of the two?

    Possible Answer: This poem alternates between a straightforward account of a man scorned, and more mythological supports. This is illustrated in the third section, where a mermaid drowns a boy to death in her eagerness to become his lover. This makes the speaker's predicament - the opposite - even more poignant.

  7. 7

    "Meditations in a Time of Civil War" is first and foremost about political change, but it is also about a shift away from the pastoral. Analyze the difference between war and progress imagery in this poem.

    Possible Answer: In his earlier collections, Yeats portrayed the Irish countryside as bucolic, untouched. Even when he moves into the isolation of the tower in this poem, the poet's solitude is interrupted by modern life; the soldiers reach his house by means of the all-too-modern road leading to his tower door. The poet is no longer isolated, but sees visions of crowds, as if he were in a city.

  8. 8

    Does "Leda and the Swan" condone the act of rape in the name of the birth of history? Greatness?

    Possible Answer: The poet describes the act of rape as a "blow," so he certainly views it as violent, but he remains morally neutral on the topic. Neither does he condone it, although it impregnates Leda with the multitudes of history.

  9. 9

    Trace the biblical and historical references in "Wisdom." Does Yeats suggest we must move beyond or constantly refer to history in order to be wise?

    Possible Answer: Yeats describes the process of building a new church, ironically, as the creation of a "new faith." This involves retelling the story of the "carpenter" (Jesus), which the new priests insist was not at first told correctly. This is a caution against obscuring or moving beyond history.

  10. 10

    Does any character other than children allow the speaker to reflect on himself?

    Possible Answer: Yeats uses the unresponsive woman as a figure throughout this collection. Not only does she cause the speaker frustration and pain, but she also allows him to meditate fruitfully on his own condition. She is undoubtedly modeled after Maude Gonne in most cases.