Short prayer for my daughter

A Prayer for My Daughter

by William Butler Yeats

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-leveling wind.
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-legged smith for man.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

Literary Analysis

“A Prayer for My Daughter” is a reflection of the poet’s love for his daughter. It is also about surviving the turmoil of the contemporary world, where passions have been separated from reason. The setting of the poem is unspecified. The speaker is the poet himself talking to his daughter. The tone is gloomy, precarious, and frightening, as well as didactic.

The poem opens with a description of the speaker praying for his innocent infant daughter, Anne, lying in the middle of a storm “howling, and half hid.” The poet demonstrates his feelings through the use of symbols of weather. The newborn baby girl is sleeping “Under this cradle-hood and coverlid,” implying the innocence and vulnerability of Anne. Though the external world is violent, she is protected from it. The storm is a metaphor for the Irish people’s struggle for their independence, which was an uncertain political situation in Yeats’s day. He further presents the situation of the storm with “roof-leveling wind”, representing turbulence, in the midst of which the poet has “walked and prayed for this young child an hour.” Intense and threatening forces surround her like a “flooded stream.” The poet symbolizes the sea thus: “Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.” Despite his apprehensions for his child in this turbulent world, he is hopeful for her.

The poet continues on to comment on his hopes for her beauty:“May she be granted beauty and yet not.” His vacillation is that beauty in women sometimes brings disasters. For example, some such people have a difficult time choosing the right person as a life partner, and neither they can “find a friend.” The speaker lays emphasis on the need for feminine innocence. The poet advances his argument in the next stanzas by citing examples of beautiful women such as Helen of Troy, whose beauty was said to be the cause of the Trojan War. By the end, the poet wants his daughter to be courteous, as love cannot come unconditionally and freely. She must earn love with good efforts and kind-heartedness, and she cannot win it by merely physical beauty because “Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned.” Summing up his theme, the poet wishes his daughter to possess such qualities that could help her face the future years confidently and independently.

Structural Analysis

The poem is written in a lyric form containing ten stanzas with eight lines in each stanza. The poem follows a regular rhyme scheme, which is AABBCDDC as shown below:

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour  A
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,          A
And-under the arches of the bridge, and scream          B
In the elms above the flooded stream;                         B
Imagining in excited reverie                                        C
That the future years had come,                                  D
Dancing to a frenzied drum,                                        D
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.                C

The meter of this poem alternates between iambic pentameter and trochaic pentameter, as inI have walked and prayed for this young child an hour / And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower.” The poem is rich in literary devices such as symbolism, personification, paradox, sibilance, assonance, alliteration, and onomatopoeia. The line “murderous innocence of the sea” is an example of paradox. Sibilance is found in the words “sea-wind scream,” while “scream” is also an example of an onomatopoeia. The use of personification can be noted in the lines “future years … dancing”, which implies the transience of life. The poet uses symbols such as “sea wind” and “flooded stream” which denote turbulent forces at work. Alliteration is present in the phrase “be granted beauty.”

Guidance for Usage of Quotes

The poem is concerned with the chaotic modern world. It shows a father consumed with apprehension for his daughter’s future in an uncertain political situation. The father is tense about how he can possibly protect his daughter from the raging storm outside, because she is very beautiful. Therefore, he prays for her as well as gives advice about how to live successfully on earth. Similarly, modern-day fathers can send quotes from this poem to their daughters as a piece of advice for special occasions:

“In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.”

literarydevices.net

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s Wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour,
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come
Dancing to a frenzied drum
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty, and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass; for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness, and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen, being chosen, found life flat and dull,
And later had much trouble from a fool;
While that great Queen that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless, could have her way,
Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift, but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful.
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise;
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree,
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound;
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
Oh, may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is heaven’s will,
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

100.best-poems.net

The summary of A prayer for My Daughter by William Butler Yeats opens up with an image of the poet’s daughter who is fast asleep in her cradle. The storm he talks about at the very onset of the poem is nothing but a contrast to the quiet sleep of the baby. The poet is worried about his child and his gloominess of mind is well portrayed through the first stanza itself.

In the first stanza itself, the backdrop of the weather with the storm raging is nothing but a potent representation of Yeats feelings and his concern for the well-being of his daughter. This poem was penned after the World War has ended and the phase where he is a dangerous one which makes him worried about the future and how her daughter will fit in. The innocence and vulnerability of his daughter is well symbolized by the words “coverlid” and “cradle-hood” which shows how protected she is in her cradle.

The theme of A Prayer for My Daughter is a significant portrayal of the violent forces that surrounds the baby; something that she is ignorant of and is still unaffected or unmoved.  The several different forces which pose a threat for the baby; famine, riots, starvation, violence is a sharp contrast to her innocence knowledge that protects her as she sleeps on.

The second stanza of the poem continues to head on and progress still depicting the  gloominess of the poets mind and that he is worried about his daughter; Anne. (“I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour). The usage of the term “Flooded stream” represents the idea of A Prayer for My Daughter as the poet continues to explain how worried he is at the existence of the troublemakers in the society and in this world as he talks about the “elms” that are tossed out by the destructive forces. The tone of the poem reflected in A Prayer for My Daughter by William Butler Yeats is one of frenetic and chaotic in nature where human emotions are on display.

However, the poem does experience a sudden shift of mood when the poet employing his power of imagination fancies how he would help his daughter that gradually puts down his worries to rest for some time. Further, it also grants the poem a pessimistic mood, and all of a sudden Yeats seems to be excited about the impending future. (“Imagining…the future years had come/Dancing to a frenzied drum.” Anne’s life will pass in chaos. “Dancing to a frenzied drum”). The passing years when his daughter grows up into a girl is echoed in the drum beats which is both responsible for the rhythm and tempo that is important in one’s life.

In the summary of A prayer for my daughter by William Butler Yeats, the innocence of the baby is juxtaposed in a contrasting flavor; “murderous”.  Her world is her sea all around and it’s evil and bodes ill for one and all. The usage of “murderous” makes the sea even more dangerous as the poet feels that there are people in this society who would try to manipulate and mold his daughters mind and might do evil things to her.

Yeats also talks about her beauty which he feels will be her strength and give her the feeling of fulfilment and help her make a better of character in times to come. At the same time, he also prays to God to retain her feminine innocence so that she can shake off all negative virtues that reside within a human being and emerge strong and decisive in her won good mannered way. Yeats refers to the story of Helen of Troy who had married a stupid man called Paris and that her life was doomed in a certain way as she wasn’t a good judge of character.

In the following stanza of the poem, Yeats wants her daughter to be courteous and polite, benevolent and helpful and that she must know that love doesn’t come freely; one has to earn it in the right way.(“Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned.” )

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read this poet’s poems

Born in Dublin, Ireland, on June 13, 1865, William Butler Yeats was the son of a well-known Irish painter, John Butler Yeats. He spent his childhood in County Sligo, where his parents were raised, and in London. He returned to Dublin at the age of fifteen to continue his education and study painting, but quickly discovered he preferred poetry. Born into the Anglo-Irish landowning class, Yeats became involved with the Celtic Revival, a movement against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period, which sought to promote the spirit of Ireland’s native heritage. Though Yeats never learned Gaelic himself, his writing at the turn of the century drew extensively from sources in Irish mythology and folklore. Also a potent influence on his poetry was the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, whom he met in 1889, a woman equally famous for her passionate nationalist politics and her beauty. Though she married another man in 1903 and grew apart from Yeats (and Yeats himself was eventually married to another woman, Georgie Hyde Lees), she remained a powerful figure in his poetry.

Yeats was deeply involved in politics in Ireland, and in the twenties, despite Irish independence from England, his verse reflected a pessimism about the political situation in his country and the rest of Europe, paralleling the increasing conservativism of his American counterparts in London, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. His work after 1910 was strongly influenced by Pound, becoming more modern in its concision and imagery, but Yeats never abandoned his strict adherence to traditional verse forms. He had a life-long interest in mysticism and the occult, which was off-putting to some readers, but he remained uninhibited in advancing his idiosyncratic philosophy, and his poetry continued to grow stronger as he grew older. Appointed a senator of the Irish Free State in 1922, he is remembered as an important cultural leader, as a major playwright (he was one of the founders of the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin), and as one of the very greatest poets—in any language—of the century. W. B. Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 and died in 1939 at the age of seventy-three.

Selected Bibliography

The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (Macmillan, 1933)
The Poetical Works of William B. Yeats (Macmillan, 1906)

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