No Second Troy

  • Yeats
  • Why should I blame her that she filled my days
  • With misery, or that she would of late
  • Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
  • Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
  • Had they but courage equal to desire?
  • What could have made her peaceful with a mind
  • That nobleness made simple as a fire,
  • With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
  • That is not natural in an age like this,
  • Being high and solitary and most stern?
  • Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
  • Was there another Troy for her to burn?

William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) was an important playwright and the greatest Irish poet of the 20th Century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature In 1923. “No Second Troy,” which was published in 1916 in Yeats’s collection Responsibilities and Other Poems, is a complex and somewhat angry portrait of the woman Yeats was infatuated with for much of his adult life, the beautiful Irish actress and political activist Maud Gonne. Yeats, politically conservative although an Irish patriot, despised the Irish Nationalist Movement that Gonne embraced. In this poem, Yeats compares her to the beautiful Helen of the Homeric epic, a woman who was largely responsible for the destruction of Troy. By the time this poem was composed, Yeats had already proposed to Gonne on several occasions and had been rejected each time. Gonne, an early feminist, spent much of her life fighting for Irish freedom from England, the release of political prisoners, and became, after her own incarceration, a notable activist for prison reform. In 1903, she married Major John MacBride and their son, Sean MacBride, a political activist like his mother, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974. 

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