Among School Children | Poetry of William Butler Yeats

  • Concepts

    • Visiting a Classroom as an Old Man
    • Maud Gonne’s Beauty
  • Themes

    • Loss of Innocence
    • Aging and Death
    • The Fleeting Nature of life and one’s achievements
  • Techniques

    • The ABABABCC rhyme of each stanza is in iambic pentameter and ends in a heroic couplet which gives each stanza a decided end.
    • This pattern changes at the line “There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow” which has a feminine ending.
    • Several feminine endings and rhetorical questions occur from this point to indicate his broader social concerns and uncertainty.
    • Yeats makes many Classical allusions to celebrate Maud’s beauty: Leda, Helen of Troy e.g. “Even daughters of the swan”. The rape of Leda and the swan motif “I had pretty plumage once” connotes corruption of innocence and decay.
    • Classical allusions are also used to contrast the old world with the modern one: Yeats ridicules the ‘music’ of Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras to show that one’s achievements are fleeting.
    • The extended metaphor of the scarecrow connotes old dried bones and brings up Yeats confrontation with death: “Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.”
    • In the seventh stanza, Yeats contrasts the different purposes we give ourselves for living in the accumulation: “O presences / That passion, piety or affection knows” and says that our desire to attain perfection makes mockery of us – the human condition.
    • In the final stanza, Yeats uses synecdoches to comfort himself that death is a part of life, as are our failures to attain perfection and the brevity of our achievements e.g. “O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer / Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?”

Try our Comprehensive English Courses!