How does Yeats present the Irishman risking his life and the reasons for joining the air force using language, imagery and form? Yeats adopts the persona of an Irish airman, Robert Gregory, who seeks a new lease of life by joining the air force, where he will, knowingly, die. Through the aviator Yeats questions the value of living a meaningless life and is illustrated by the poem which seems to be an account of the banality of a mere existence; the worthlessness of a life without ups or downs, without tears of happiness or sadness - a wasted life - and the Irishman’s brave effort to redress this once hopeless situation and enjoy one truly emotive experience-death. Yeats utilises several techniques to present risking one’s life through language, imagery and form. The poem sounds like a tragic soliloquy and complementing this kind of tragic arithmetic is the neatly balanced structure of the poem, with its cycles of alternating rhymes and its clipped, stoical meter. The rhythm and tempo of the first part is regular but also feels restricted and forced almost as though it’s imperative to follow that particular structure, perhaps reflecting that his life is both mundane and ritualistic. The latter part of the poem seems to have deviated from the expected speed, and the pace accelerates almost spontaneously suggesting that there is a paradox, as the airman felt most alive when he was on the verge of death. Moreover, Yeats utilises specific letters for a particular effect such as the usage of the letter ‘l’, which occurs often throughout the poem, creating a musical effect to highlight what one may perceive to be the main line ‘a lonely impulse of delight’, the letter produces a lyrical sound. In addition, the “s” sounds in the last four lines give the final words of the poem an intimate feeling, allowing the reader to be with the Irishman during his death. The most vivid moment of the speaker’s life contains his death. Structurally, the poem is a list of reasons that prompted the airman to take flight for the British and risk his life, the end-stopped former part of the poem makes it as though the airman was keen to justify himself, this layout also implies that the airman is treating the reader as a child, one that cannot understand both the complexity and the simplicity of his decision, the tone is not only void of emotion but there is a hint of patronisation. This listing technique that Yeats utilises is also employed in September 1913 and Easter 1916 where Yeats lists the martyrs who risked their lives for a cause. Unlike the Irish airman, Yeats does seem to be admiring them- the very sound of their names, “Edward Fitzgerald... Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone” and “” seem heroic and characters from legends and folk tales. The way in which Yeats speaks of them sound as though he respects there strong conviction and the way in which they have devoted the rest of their lives for a cause that later proves to be futile, the reader Yeats sees beauty in this futility. On the other hand, the airman isn’t portrayed as valiant nor is the fact that he is risking his life emphasised as he wasn’t sacrificing life and limb for the greater good of mankind, in fact the Irishman is so remote from the classical knight, having no beloved one nor any target, and the call of duty, the law, leadership or any other ideal or motive are nothing to him. Nevertheless under this knight's cloak hides a robotic and cold man, masked by the glamorous profession and a forthcoming end. Yeats, he neither worships his hero nor mourns his death.
The acceptance of death is established from the opening, which can be perceived as rather unnerving, however it is also a romantic and amorous beginning as the “clouds above”, traditionally and religiously bear the associations of being in a dream-like state and sublime transcendence in the skies above: the sense that, in flying, we move into a realm beyond earth, perhaps to heaven. Spiritually, the Irishman might not...
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