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Easter, 1916 | Quotes

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1.

I have passed with a nod of the head / Or polite meaningless words.


Narrator

The narrator describes the initial apathy he feels toward the rebels, who leave their meetings with "vivid faces" filled with an excitement Yeats finds meaningless.

2.

And thought before I had done / Of a mocking tale or gibe.


Narrator

Not only does the narrator fail to share the rebels' enthusiasm for Irish nationalism, he goes so far as to mock them, telling "gibes" about them to share a laugh with friends at the pub.

3.

All changed, changed utterly.


Narrator

The way the narrator previously felt about the rebels changes irrevocably after the uprising, when he, like a majority of Irish, came to respect the rebels' willingness to die for their country.

4.

A terrible beauty is born.


Narrator

The effects of the uprising are both terrible and beautiful. Terrible because so many people, including some of Yeats's friends, died, but beautiful because it created a spirit of unity within Ireland and a rebirth of Irish patriotism.

5.

This man had kept a school / And rode our wingèd horse.


Narrator

Yeats mythologizes his friend, schoolteacher Patrick Pearse, as a hero, akin to a Greek god by conjuring an image of the winged horse Pegasus. Pearse was a fierce advocate of teaching the Irish language to schoolchildren; thus, the "horse" may represent the power of Irish culture.

6.

Yet I number him in the song; [...] / He, too, has been changed in his turn.


Narrator

Here, Yeats references Major MacBride, who married and abused Yeats's own true love, Maud Gonne. Despite Yeats's dislike of MacBride, he names him alongside the other heroes because MacBride, too, has been changed in death.

7.

Enchanted to a stone / To trouble the living stream.


Narrator

The narrator compares the rebels' hearts to stone—unwavering in their beliefs. He compares them to stones in a river. The rushing water, which represents life, changes and moves forward, while the rebels' ideals are changeless.

8.

A shadow of cloud on the stream / Changes minute by minute.


Narrator

Life changes constantly—minute by minute—but the rebels won't be around to appreciate the effects of their struggle.

9.

Minute by minute they live: / The stone's in the midst of all.


Narrator

Ireland has been forever changed by the uprising—everything "new"; and the unity and re-birth of patriotism has the rebel's fight, the stone, at the center of that change.

10.

Too long a sacrifice / Can make a stone of the heart.


Narrator

In Stanza 3, the stone symbolizes the rebels' unwavering purpose. Now, however, the stone takes on a negative connotation. A heart of stone is one that cannot be moved by emotions. With this metaphor Yeats expresses the ambiguity mixed with his admiration for the rebels. It is possible, he suggests, that the Irish people have suffered and sacrificed for long enough.

11.

O when may it suffice?


Narrator

The narrator questions when one's sacrifice will be enough and true change can be seen. He questions whether the rebels needed to die, and now, whether this sacrifice will truly deliver Ireland to independence.

12.

That is Heaven's part, our part / To murmur name upon name.


Narrator

Yeats answers the question he has asked in the previous line, "When may it suffice?" It is up to heaven to judge the rebels' actions, but it is up to modern society to remember the sacrifices that eventually will award Ireland its freedom.

13.

No, no, not night but death.


Narrator

The speaker contrasts the sacrifice made by the rebels with the sacrifice by Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Unlike Christ, the rebels themselves will not be resurrected. They remain dead forever. Unlike the child who will wake up in the morning, the rebels will never awake.

14.

We know their dream; enough / To know they dreamed and are dead.


Narrator

No one can say what would have come from the rebels' lives had they lived; they will be remembered forever for their sacrifices. History will remember their dream, and that they died fighting for it.

15.

Now and in time to be, / Wherever green is worn.


Narrator

The rebels' execution gives new life to Irish nationalism, and the narrator asserts that from now on, whenever the Irish feel pride or "wear green" they will remember the great sacrifices of MacDonagh, MacBride, Connolly, and Pearse.

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