Among School Children by W B Yeats – Summary, Analysis, Critical Appreciation

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Among School Children by W. B. Yeats: A Detailed Study

Poems by W B Yeats are always points of discussion among college students, critics, academicians and poetry enthusiasts. Many poems by Yeats, written almost a hundred years ago are still popular, debatable and mysterious treasures for enthusiasts of poetry and literature. I have analysed and presented critical studies of a few poems, including W B Yeats’ critically acclaimed poem Sailing to Byzantium. Today, I present the critical study and detailed analysis of another poem by Yeats, famous and critically appreciated, Among School Children. There are various sections in this article and English literature students should go through each one of these sections carefully.

 

Introduction:

“Among School Children” by W. B. Yeats is a poignant exploration of life’s complexities, encapsulated within the confines of a schoolroom. Written in 1926 and published in 1928 as part of Yeats’ collection “The Tower,” the poem delves into themes of ageing, love, and the intertwining of the physical and spiritual realms. Through a rich tapestry of vivid imagery, symbolic elements, and mythological allusions, Yeats reflects on the transience of youth, his personal experiences with unrequited love, and the profound mysteries that define human existence. The poem’s three stanzas navigate between the mundane reality of children seeking material pursuits and the profound introspection of the speaker as he contemplates the dance of life. With an irregular rhyme scheme and rhythmic cadence, “Among School Children” invites readers to delve into the depths of philosophical contemplation, prompting reflection on the timeless and universal aspects of the human journey.

 

History of the Poem:
“Among School Children” by W. B. Yeats is a profound poem that emerged in 1928, forming a part of his renowned collection, “The Tower.” This poem occupies a significant place in Yeats’ literary canon, showcasing his mastery of language, intricate symbolism, and deep philosophical reflections. Composed during a pivotal period in Yeats’ life, this piece reveals the poet’s contemplation on the complexities of existence, the passage of time, and the profound interplay of the spiritual and material realms. Written when Yeats was in his sixties, the poem is an introspective exploration of love, ageing, and the quest for spiritual understanding. Yeats, with his keen interest in mysticism and metaphysics, infuses the poem with profound insights.

 

Title of the Poem:

The title “Among School Children” immediately establishes the poem’s setting – a school environment. However, the word “among” suggests a sense of detachment or observation, indicating that the poem will not merely describe the experiences within a school but will also explore broader themes related to human existence. The title suggests, on the surface, a classroom. However, this seemingly mundane backdrop serves as a canvas for Yeats to paint a broader picture of the human experience, intertwining personal reflections with universal themes. The poem delves into the collision of idealism and reality, capturing the tension between youthful aspirations and the harshness of worldly truths. Just as in “Sailing to Byzantium,” Yeats employs historical and symbolic depth, making “Among School Children” a timeless and thought-provoking piece in the tapestry of Yeats’ poetic legacy.

 

Structure, Rhyme Scheme, and Prosody:

“Among School Children” by W. B. Yeats exhibits a meticulously crafted structure, rhyme scheme, and prosody, showcasing the poet’s mastery of form. The poem is organized into eight sections, each comprising 8 lines, where Yeats adeptly explores various facets of the themes central to the poem. Employing a consistent rhyme scheme of abababcc throughout, the poem achieves a harmonious and rhythmic flow. In terms of prosody, Yeats employs iambic pentameter, a meter widely utilised in English poetry. This metrical choice contributes to the poem’s formal and structured tone, enhancing its musicality and guiding the reader through the contemplative and introspective journey. The regular and measured rhythm of iambic pentameter aligns with the reflective mood of the poem, allowing Yeats to delve into the complexities of life, ageing, and the intertwining of the spiritual and material realms. Much like in “Sailing to Byzantium,” Yeats demonstrates his command over poetic elements in “Among School Children,” making it a nuanced and aesthetically pleasing exploration of profound themes.

 

Summary of the Poem:

Quick Summary: “Among School Children” by W. B. Yeats is a diligently crafted exploration of the intricacies of life, ageing, and the interplay between the spiritual and material realms. The poem opens with the poet, assuming the first-person perspective, traversing a schoolroom and engaging in conversation with a benevolent nun while observing children engrossed in academic pursuits. This setting serves as a backdrop for Yeats’s introspection on the passage of time and the convergence of innocence and experience. The introduction of the Ledaean body metaphor in the second stanza adds a layer of complexity as it symbolizes the transformative power of personal and collective histories. The poet contemplates the tragic nature of events that shape one’s life, subtly alluding to the universality of human suffering. As the narrative unfolds, Yeats skillfully weaves together themes of beauty, mortality, and the cyclical nature of existence. The juxtaposition of the speaker’s present self with memories of youth raises poignant questions about the transience of physical beauty and the enduring impact of personal experiences. The poem’s latter stanzas delve into philosophical inquiries, invoking Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras, as Yeats probes the relationship between nature, art, and human endeavour. The evocative imagery, intricate symbolism, and profound reflections culminate in a masterful piece that invites readers to engage in a contemplative exploration of the complexities inherent in the human condition.

Stanza-by-stanza Summary:

Stanza I:
The speaker, presumably Yeats, describes walking through a schoolroom, questioning the education process. A kind old nun responds, and the children are engaged in various activities. The stanza portrays the contrast between the innocence of the children’s eyes and the experienced gaze of a sixty-year-old public figure.

Stanza II:
The speaker dreams of a Ledaean body, referring to the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan. This myth involves a harsh event that turns a childish day into tragedy. The speaker contemplates the blending of two natures, perhaps alluding to the complexities of human experience and the impact of significant events on one’s character.

Stanza III:
Reflecting on a past fit of grief or rage, the speaker observes children and wonders if a particular child resembles someone from the speaker’s past. The mention of the daughters of the swan suggests a connection to the Leda myth, and the vivid image of a living child evokes strong emotions.

Stanza IV:
The speaker’s thoughts shift to the present image of a woman. The speaker questions whether the image was crafted by an artist of the Quattrocento (15th century). The speaker acknowledges their past attractiveness but dismisses it as if to say it’s better to embrace the ageing process and accept a comfortable, albeit somewhat frightening, existence.

Stanza V:
The speaker contemplates the perspective of a youthful mother holding her newborn. The child, the shape of the “honey of the generation,” is seen as a source of both joy and struggle. The speaker questions whether the son, now aged, could be seen as compensation for the difficulties of birth and the uncertainties of life.

Stanza VI:
Philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras are referenced, each engaging in their intellectual pursuits. The speaker reflects on the nature of existence, comparing it to a spume, a ghostly paradigm, and a playful activity. The stanza suggests a disconnect between lofty intellectual pursuits and the tangible, messy reality of life.

Stanza VII:
The speaker comments on the worship of images by both nuns and mothers. The candles light images that differ from those that animate a mother’s dreams. The stanza explores the emotional impact of these images, acknowledging their ability to both inspire and break hearts.

Stanza VIII:
The final stanza reflects on the blossoming of labour or dancing where the body is not bruised. It questions the source of beauty, wisdom, and the essence of existence. The chestnut tree becomes a symbol of the interconnectedness of life, and the speaker concludes with a philosophical inquiry into the relationship between the dancer and the dance.

 

Line by Line Explanation (with Critical Commentary):

Stanza I:

I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading-books and history,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way—the children’s eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.
Line-by-line explanation:

“I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;”

In the opening line, Yeats places the reader within a schoolroom, creating a vivid sense of space and action. The act of walking through, combined with the poet’s questioning, suggests a deliberate and contemplative engagement with the educational environment. The use of the first-person pronoun “I” establishes a personal connection between the speaker and the scene, positioning the reader as a direct observer of the unfolding events.

“A kind old nun in a white hood replies;”

The introduction of a “kind old nun” wearing a white hood introduces a maternal and nurturing figure in the educational setting. The nun’s age and benevolence imply wisdom and experience, contributing to a sense of authority. The choice of a white hood symbolizes purity and spirituality, reinforcing the idea of an institution with a moral foundation. The act of the nun replying indicates a willingness to share knowledge and engage in dialogue, setting a tone of interaction and exchange of ideas.

“The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading-books and history,”

These lines succinctly capture the essence of the children’s educational pursuits. The verbs “learn,” “study,” and “cipher” highlight the multifaceted nature of their academic activities, encompassing not only numerical skills but also literary and historical knowledge. The inclusion of singing adds a creative and expressive dimension to their learning, emphasizing a holistic approach to education.

“To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way—the children’s eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.”

The mention of practical skills such as cutting and sewing underscores a comprehensive educational curriculum that extends beyond intellectual pursuits to include manual dexterity and craftsmanship. The emphasis on being “neat in everything” suggests an emphasis on discipline and order. The image of the children’s eyes staring in “momentary wonder” introduces a sense of curiosity and admiration, setting the stage for the appearance of the “sixty-year-old smiling public man.” This older figure, presumably the speaker, is described with a blend of age and public affability, creating an intriguing contrast with the educational setting. The adjective “smiling” adds a layer of approachability, hinting at the speaker’s role as a figure of experience and perhaps inspiration within the school environment.

Critical Commentary:
In this stanza, Yeats skillfully establishes the scene of a schoolroom, employing vivid descriptions and evocative language to immerse the reader in the educational setting. The juxtaposition of the kind old nun, the diligent children, and the seasoned speaker creates a dynamic interplay of characters and experiences. The inclusion of diverse learning activities, from academic subjects to practical skills, reflects a holistic approach to education. The image of the sixty-year-old public man introduces a layer of complexity, inviting readers to consider the intersection of wisdom, public life, and the passing of time. The stanza serves as a microcosm of the broader themes that “Among School Children” explores, including the cyclical nature of life, the contrast between youth and age, and the transformative power of education and experience.

 

Stanza II:

I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
Above a sinking fire, a tale that she
Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
That changed some childish day to tragedy—
Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
Or else, to alter Plato’s parable,
Into the yolk and white of the one shell.
Line-by-line explanation: 

“I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
Above a sinking fire, a tale that she
Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event”

In the opening lines of the second stanza, the speaker presents a dream scenario featuring a “Ledaean body.” The use of “Ledaean” connects to Greek mythology, specifically Leda, who was seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan. The imagery of this body being “bent” suggests a posture of vulnerability or a contemplative stance. The setting above a “sinking fire” introduces a metaphorical element, where the diminishing flames could signify waning passion, the passage of time, or the fading of a significant event. The tale mentioned, involving a “harsh reproof” or a seemingly minor incident, introduces the power of storytelling to shape perceptions of events, emphasizing the subjective nature of memory.


“That changed some childish day to tragedy—

Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
Or else, to alter Plato’s parable,
Into the yolk and white of the one shell.”

The following lines delve into the consequences of the recounted tale. The transformation of a “childish day to tragedy” highlights the emotional impact of experiences in childhood, emphasizing the lasting resonance of seemingly insignificant moments. The phrase “our two natures blent” suggests a merging of identities, creating a shared emotional sphere fueled by “youthful sympathy.” This blending of natures underscores the communal aspects of storytelling and memory, emphasizing the collective human experience. The reference to Plato’s parable introduces a philosophical layer, suggesting a reinterpretation or alteration of individual narratives to form a unified understanding. The metaphor of the “yolk and white of the one shell” symbolizes a harmonious fusion, echoing themes of unity and shared identity.

Critical Commentary:
These lines deepen the exploration of memory and storytelling, portraying the transformative power of narratives to shape individual and collective identities. The dream sequence, infused with mythological references, adds a layer of symbolism, emphasizing the enduring impact of shared experiences. The mention of Plato’s parable introduces a philosophical dimension, inviting reflection on the nature of storytelling and its ability to forge connections and understanding. The stanza contributes to the broader themes of the poem, highlighting the interplay between personal and shared memories, and the profound influence of storytelling on the shaping of one’s identity.

 

Stanza III: 

And thinking of that fit of grief or rage
I look upon one child or t’other there
And wonder if she stood so at that age—
For even daughters of the swan can share
Something of every paddler’s heritage—
And had that colour upon cheek or hair,
And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
She stands before me as a living child.
Line-by-line explanation:

“And thinking of that fit of grief or rage
I look upon one child or t’other there
And wonder if she stood so at that age—”

The opening lines of the third stanza reveal the speaker’s contemplation of a past emotional upheaval, possibly the one mentioned in the dream. The speaker observes children in the present and wonders if one of them, representing the “Ledaean” figure from the dream, experienced a similar emotional turmoil at that age. This contemplation underscores the continuity of human experience across generations and the universal nature of emotional struggles.

“For even daughters of the swan can share
Something of every paddler’s heritage—
And had that colour upon cheek or hair,”

The reference to “daughters of the swan” reinforces the mythological motif, suggesting a shared legacy or heritage among those with a connection to the mythical swan. The mention of “every paddler’s heritage” introduces a broader human experience, emphasizing the commonality of emotional trials that transcend individual backgrounds. The specific details of “colour upon cheek or hair” add a visual and emotional element, connecting the present child to the vivid imagery of the dream and highlighting the enduring impact of past experiences.

“And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
She stands before me as a living child.”

The concluding lines express the emotional intensity of the speaker’s reflection. The phrase “my heart is driven wild” conveys a visceral response to the realization that the present child embodies the living manifestation of the past dream. This moment of recognition brings together the themes of memory, continuity, and the timeless nature of human emotions. The child becomes a tangible link between past and present, embodying the enduring essence of shared experiences.

Critical Commentary:
In this stanza, the speaker’s contemplation of past emotions intersects with the observation of present-day children, creating a poignant connection between generations. The use of mythological imagery and the metaphor of the swan’s legacy adds depth to the exploration of shared human experiences. The emotional impact is heightened in the final lines as the present child becomes a living embodiment of the past, underscoring the theme of continuity and the timeless nature of human emotions. This stanza contributes to the overarching exploration of memory, identity, and the interplay between personal and collective experiences.

 

Stanza IV: 

Her present image floats into the mind—
Did Quattrocento finger fashion it
Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind
And took a mess of shadows for its meat?
And I though never of Ledaean kind
Had pretty plumage once—enough of that,
Better to smile on all that smile, and show
There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.
Line-by-line explanation: 

“Her present image floats into the mind—”

The opening line introduces a shift in focus as the speaker transitions from the contemplation of the past to the consideration of the present. The phrase “floats into the mind” suggests a subtle and elusive emergence of the present image, indicating the subjective and fluid nature of memory and perception.

“Did Quattrocento finger fashion it
Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind
And took a mess of shadows for its meat?”

The speaker engages in a reflective inquiry about the nature of the present image. The reference to the Quattrocento, an artistic and cultural movement of the 15th century, adds an aesthetic dimension to the contemplation. The description of the image as “hollow of cheek” and consuming “a mess of shadows for its meat” introduces a surreal and symbolic element. These vivid visual metaphors convey a sense of fragility and ethereality, raising questions about the nature of perception, beauty, and the substance of existence.

“And I though never of Ledaean kind
Had pretty plumage once—enough of that,”

The speaker acknowledges a personal divergence from the mythological narrative of Leda but chooses to redirect the focus. The admission of having “pretty plumage once” hints at a personal history of beauty or adornment, but the abrupt interruption with “enough of that” suggests a desire to avoid dwelling on the past or indulging in self-reflection.

“Better to smile on all that smile, and show
There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.”

The concluding lines bring a shift in tone as the speaker advises a redirection of attention. The notion of smiling on all that smile implies a stoic acceptance of the complexities of life, akin to the resilience of an old scarecrow. The metaphorical comparison to a scarecrow suggests comfort in embracing one’s imperfections and the passage of time, reinforcing the theme of acceptance and the inevitability of change.

Critical Commentary:
This stanza explores the interplay between past and present, contemplating the nature of the present image and its artistic or symbolic qualities. The reference to the Quattrocento adds a historical and cultural layer to the speaker’s reflections. The vivid metaphors depicting the present image as hollow and consuming shadows contribute to the poem’s surreal and introspective atmosphere. The personal acknowledgement of a divergent history and the subsequent redirection of focus towards a metaphorical scarecrow create a nuanced exploration of self-perception, acceptance, and the passage of time.

 

Stanza V:
What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap
Honey of generation had betrayed,
And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape
As recollection or the drug decide,
Would think her son, did she but see that shape
With sixty or more winters on its head,
A compensation for the pang of his birth,
Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?
Line-by-line Explanation:

“What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap
Honey of generation had betrayed,”

The opening lines pose a poignant rhetorical question, directing attention to a youthful mother holding a newborn child. The metaphorical “shape upon her lap” represents the infant, referred to as the “Honey of generation.” The term “betrayed” introduces a complex layer of emotion, suggesting the inevitable hardships and challenges that come with the act of bringing life into the world.

“And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape
As recollection or the drug decide,”

The subsequent lines vividly describe the inevitable phases of life—sleep, shriek, and struggle—highlighting the cyclical nature of human existence. The reference to recollection and the role of a drug introduces the idea of coping mechanisms and how individuals navigate the challenges presented by memory and external influences.

“Would think her son, did she but see that shape
With sixty or more winters on its head,”

The rhetorical question evolves, imagining the perspective of the youthful mother witnessing the same child with “sixty or more winters on its head.” This stark image emphasizes the passage of time and the transformative journey from infancy to old age. The juxtaposition of the youthful shape and the ageing individual prompts reflection on the compensations and uncertainties inherent in the cycle of life.

“A compensation for the pang of his birth,
Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?”

The final lines delve into the theme of compensation, questioning whether the ageing individual, with the weight of accumulated experience, can serve as compensation for the initial hardships of birth and the uncertainties associated with one’s journey in life. The use of “pang” evokes a sense of emotional pain, further emphasizing the challenges of existence and the potential redemptive qualities found in the resilience and wisdom gained over time.

Critical Commentary:
This stanza explores the complexities of the life cycle, contemplating the enduring impact of birth and the uncertainties of existence. The vivid imagery of the newborn’s experiences and the rhetorical question about the ageing individual as compensation invite readers to reflect on the inherent struggles and rewards of life. The interplay between generational perspectives adds depth to the thematic exploration of time, memory, and the cyclical nature of human existence.

 

Stanza VI: 
Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
Upon a ghostly paradigm of things;
Solider Aristotle played the taws
Upon the bottom of a king of kings;
World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras
Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings
What a star sang and careless Muses heard:
Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.
Line-by-line explanation:

“Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
Upon a ghostly paradigm of things;”

The opening lines introduce philosophical perspectives, attributing to Plato the belief that nature is a fleeting foam, playing on a spectral model of reality. The term “spume” conveys the ephemeral and insubstantial nature of the natural world, while the reference to a “ghostly paradigm” suggests an ethereal framework that Plato ascribes to the physical world.

“Solider Aristotle played the taws
Upon the bottom of a king of kings;”

The contrast with Aristotle follows, characterizing him as more grounded and practical (“solider”). The mention of “taws” suggests a disciplinary approach, emphasizing Aristotle’s engagement with the tangible aspects of reality. The phrase “bottom of a king of kings” evokes a hierarchical structure, portraying Aristotle as a stern disciplinarian shaping the foundations of a regal order.

“World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras
Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings
What a star sang and careless Muses heard:”

The stanza then turns to Pythagoras, renowned for his contributions to mathematics and music. The imagery of Pythagoras fingering a “fiddle-stick or strings” aligns with his association with the mathematical principles underlying musical harmony. The reference to a star singing and careless Muses hearing underscores the intersection of cosmic and artistic elements in Pythagorean philosophy.

“Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.”

The concluding line employs a metaphorical image, suggesting that the teachings of these ancient philosophers are like old clothes on sticks, serving the purpose of frightening a bird. This metaphor implies a certain antiquated quality to their ideas, perhaps emphasizing their obsolescence in the speaker’s contemporary context.

Critical Commentary:
This stanza delves into the contrasting philosophical perspectives of Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras. The use of vivid imagery and metaphorical language conveys the essence of each philosopher’s worldview. The juxtaposition of Plato’s ethereal conception of nature, Aristotle’s pragmatic approach, and Pythagoras’s blend of mathematics and music adds depth to the poem’s exploration of human thought and the diverse ways in which individuals engage with the mysteries of existence. The metaphor in the final line subtly suggests a certain scepticism or dismissiveness toward these ancient philosophies in the face of the speaker’s own reflections on life and ageing.

 

Stanza VII:
Both nuns and mothers worship images,
But those the candles light are not as those
That animate a mother’s reveries,
But keep a marble or a bronze repose.
And yet they too break hearts—O Presences
That passion, piety or affection knows,
And that all heavenly glory symbolise—
O self-born mockers of man’s enterprise;
Line-by-line explanation:

“Both nuns and mothers worship images,
But those the candles light are not as those
That animate a mother’s reveries,
But keep a marble or a bronze repose.”

The stanza begins with a comparison between nuns and mothers, asserting that both groups engage in worship, particularly of images. The distinction is drawn between the images illuminated by candles, which lack the vitality of those that come to life in a mother’s dreams. The reference to “marble or a bronze repose” suggests a static and lifeless quality in the images typically venerated in religious or contemplative settings.

“And yet they too break hearts—O Presences
That passion, piety or affection knows,
And that all heavenly glory symbolise—
O self-born mockers of man’s enterprise;”

The speaker acknowledges that even though these images lack the vivacity of those in a mother’s imagination, they still possess the power to “break hearts.” The capitalised “Presences” conveys a sense of reverence or recognition of a higher power inherent in these images. The following lines attribute to these presences the ability to symbolize “passion, piety, or affection” and embody “heavenly glory.” The final line describes them as “self-born mockers of man’s enterprise,” suggesting a dual nature—both transcendent and mocking—perhaps highlighting the complexity and ambiguity of religious or spiritual pursuits.

Critical Commentary:
In this stanza, Yeats explores the dual nature of religious or contemplative images, drawing a contrast between the static representations often venerated in religious rituals and the dynamic, emotionally charged images that arise in the imagination of a mother. The acknowledgement that these images, despite their apparent lifelessness, can “break hearts” reflects the profound impact that symbolic representations can have on human emotions. The stanza touches on themes of passion, piety, and the elusive nature of heavenly glory, alluding to the paradoxical relationship between spiritual aspirations and the challenges of earthly existence. The closing line introduces an element of irony, suggesting that these images both emanate from a divine source (“self-born”) and mock human endeavours, underscoring the enigmatic and multifaceted nature of religious or spiritual experiences.

 

Stanza VIII:
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
Line-by-line explanation:

“Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.”

In the opening lines, Yeats explores the relationship between labour, the soul, and creativity. The assertion that “Labour is blossoming or dancing where / The body is not bruised to pleasure soul” suggests that true productivity and creativity arise when one’s physical efforts do not harm the soul. The next line expands on this idea, emphasizing that genuine beauty and wisdom cannot emerge from self-inflicted suffering or despair. The reference to “midnight oil” alludes to the traditional image of burning the midnight oil for intellectual pursuits, suggesting that wisdom should not be derived solely from strenuous and wearisome endeavours.

“O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

The stanza shifts to a metaphorical reflection on a chestnut tree, posing a question about identity and essence. The speaker contemplates whether the tree is defined by its leaves, blossoms, or trunk, drawing a parallel to the ambiguity in understanding the relationship between the dancer and the dance. The concluding lines pose a philosophical inquiry into the inseparability of the dancer and the dance, prompting consideration of how one can distinguish the two.

Critical Commentary:
In the final stanza, Yeats delves into the nature of labour, creativity, and the intrinsic connection between the labourer and the product of their efforts. The imagery of a chestnut tree serves as a metaphor for the complexities of identity and existence. The rhetorical question regarding the tree’s components echoes the larger existential question of how to discern the essence of a thing or a person. The final inquiry, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” encapsulates the overarching theme of the poem, emphasizing the interconnectedness of human experience, creativity, and the challenge of unravelling the mysteries of existence. The stanza calls for contemplation on the fundamental nature of identity and the intricate dance between the creator and the creation.

Poetic Devices Used in the Poem:

Imagery: Yeats employs vivid and symbolic imagery throughout the poem, such as the “labyrinth,” the God with “limbs like the body of a man,” and the “ivory charm upon a chain.” These images enhance the reader’s engagement and contribute to the poem’s rich aesthetic.

Symbolism: The poem is laden with symbolic elements, including the dancer, the labyrinth, and the ivory charm. These symbols represent deeper layers of meaning, inviting readers to interpret the poem beyond its literal narrative.

Allusion: Yeats alludes to mythology and ancient gods, infusing the poem with a timeless and universal quality. The reference to the God of antiquity and the dancer’s robe adds a mythic dimension to the speaker’s reflections.

Metaphor: The poem is replete with metaphors, such as the comparison of love to a dancer and the speaker’s ageing body to a “mummy.” These metaphors contribute to the poem’s depth and provide a nuanced understanding of the themes explored.

A list of all poetic devices used in Among School Children with examples:

1. Metaphor:
Example: “What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap / Honey of generation had betrayed”
In this line, the shape upon the mother’s lap is a metaphor for her child, and “Honey of generation” represents the sweetness and potential of life.

2. Alliteration:
Example: “Labour is blossoming or dancing where”
The repetition of the “b” sound in “Labour is blossoming” creates an alliterative effect, emphasizing the action and adding musicality to the line.

3. Imagery:
Example: “I walk through the long schoolroom questioning; / A kind old nun in a white hood replies”
The vivid description of the schoolroom and the nun’s appearance creates a clear mental image for the reader.

4. Symbolism:
Example: “O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,”
The chestnut tree serves as a symbol, representing the cycles of life and growth, rootedness, and blossoming.

5. Enjambment:
Example: “For even daughters of the swan can share / Something of every paddler’s heritage—”
The continuation of the sentence without a pause between lines enhances the flow and rhythm, connecting ideas seamlessly.

6. Anaphora:
Example: “O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,”
The repetition of the phrase “O chestnut tree” at the beginning of successive lines emphasizes the speaker’s contemplation and admiration for the tree.

7. Personification:
Example: “Labour is blossoming or dancing where / The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,”
Describing labour as “blossoming” and “dancing” gives human qualities to an abstract concept, enhancing the emotional impact of the statement.

8. Irony:
Example: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
The ironic question challenges the distinction between the artist (dancer) and the art (dance), raising philosophical inquiries about identity and existence.

9. Allusion:
Example: “And I though never of Ledaean kind”
The allusion to Leda, a figure from Greek mythology, adds depth to the speaker’s reflections on beauty and transformation.

10. Hyperbole:
Example: “To cut and sew, be neat in everything / In the best modern way”
The exaggeration of being “neat in everything” emphasizes the societal expectations placed on the children.

Without a doubt, these poetic devices contribute to the richness of “Among School Children,” enhancing its aesthetic and thematic qualities.

 

Conclusion:

“Among School Children” is a masterful exploration of the complexities of life, love, and the passage of time. W. B. Yeats seamlessly weaves together personal reflections, mythological elements, and philosophical musings, creating a poem that transcends its immediate context and resonates with readers on a profound level. The irregular rhyme scheme and rhythmic cadence enhance the poem’s lyrical quality, while the use of vivid imagery and symbolism adds layers of meaning. Through this poetic masterpiece, Yeats invites readers to ponder the mysteries of existence and the inseparable connection between the physical and spiritual dimensions of life.

If you have any specific questions or if there’s anything else you’d like me to elaborate on, please let me know.

 

Here are other articles based on Among School Children. Read them for a better understanding of the poem:

Among School Children, a Comprehensive Critical Appreciation

 

Articles on other poems by W B Yeats:

Sailing to Byzantium

 

 

 

Alok for English Literature Education

 

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Very detailed and easy to understand. Thank you! Can you also make something like this for Leda and the Swan poem by W B Yeats? Please?

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  • A very detailed and helpful article. Thanks for writing this one. I have to study this poem in my syllabus. Among School Children by Yeats becomes tough for newbies and I found great help by reading this analysis by you.

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  • Very well written analysis. It is detailed and comprehensive. I understood the poem Among School Children by W B Yeats by reading this article. I missed the classes, two to be precise, in my college and this is the article that could help me cover for that.

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  • Great article… it helped me understand the poem and also the hidden symbolism and meanings. Many many thanks! Now I can write answers about this poem with confidence.

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