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Easter, 1916 | Symbols

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Stone

The stone represents the unmoving determination the rebels had for independence. Much of Stanza 3 is spent creating a complex image of a stone in the river. First, the narrator compares the rebels' hearts to stone, unyielding in their "one purpose alone / Through summer and winter." Later in the stanza, he creates a complicated image of the stone in a rushing river. No matter what happens around the stone, from a horse splashing through the water to birds diving and calling around it, the stone remains unmoved. Similarly, no matter how much drama unfolded around the rebels, both before and during the uprising, they remained steadfastly resolute in their fight. No one could convince them to change their minds, and many marched to their deaths with "ignorant good-will" knowing they would lose. They were "enchanted," swept up in the moment, incapable of seeing the past or the future: "minute by minute they live: / The stone's in the midst of all."

Green

The color green symbolizes Irish culture. At the opening of the poem, the narrator describes Ireland as "grey" suggesting depression and gloom. He also describes the country as "motley"—"where motley is worn"—suggesting that under English rule, Ireland lacks a unique identity, with English and Irish culture jumbled together in "motley" mix. At the end of the poem, however, he conjures green, a color now synonymous with Ireland, when noting the immortality of the rebels who will be remembered "wherever green is worn." The rebels succeeded in uniting a heterogeneous Irish population in outrage over their executions, creating a "terrible beauty"—terrible because the rebels had to die, but beautiful because the people united. Bright green washes away gloomy grey and represents the beautiful future of an independent Ireland.

Terrible Beauty

"Terrible beauty" refers to the effects of the uprising in Ireland. The uprising destroyed the streets of Dublin, claimed many lives, and resulted in the execution of 15 leaders, many of whom were Yeats's personal friends. These effects were inarguably terrible. Yet as a result of the executions, the Irish people banded together with a new fire to fight for independence. Their unity caused a rebirth of Irish nationalism, which to Yeats, was beautiful. Three times in the poem (lines 16, 40, and 80) the narrator refers to a "terrible beauty" as he struggles to reconcile the great losses and the great gains that resulted from the uprising. The phrase also suggests the conflicted emotions Yeats felt, and which he tries to process throughout the poem—starting first as apathetic and distanced, then grieved, then proud. In the end, the narrator recognizes that history remembers moments of bloodshed and loss, and makes heroes of the martyred rebels.

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