To a Shade by W.B. Yeats

Introduction: The poem “To a Shade” by W.B. Yeats appeared in the collection “Responsibilities”. It commemorates Charles Stewart Parnell, the radical Protestant leader, the most prominent Irish politician of the 19th century. He formed the Irish Parliamentary Party and led numerous campaigns against British colonisation, both within and outside the parliament, most of which were the Home Rule movement and land reform agitation. However, his adulterous affair with Katherine O’Shea, the wife of Captain William O’Shea, which came to light when her husband was seeking divorce, shocked both England and Ireland. Much of the members of his party shunned him, resulting in a sudden downturn in his illustrious political career in December 1890. He died on October 6, 1891, just over three months after he had married Katherine. However, Parnell was also remembered as the greatest Irish leader of his era.

The poem portrays the ingratitude of the Dubliners against Parnell. For all his great sacrifice and service to Ireland, he is a forgotten figure of the past. The Parnell Monument and the sea, as well as the seagulls and the bleak Dublin houses, may respond to a visit by the spirit of the leader, but for the people of Dublin, the leader, who once inspired generations of Irish people, is an obsolete symbol whom some of them have brought to shame.

Conceptual Words

Shade: a ghost

Glasnevin: Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, where Parnell is buried

Simile: a figure of speech that compares a thing with another thing unlike
it, with an intention to make the description more clear as well as beautiful.

Summary of To A Shade

The first stanza starts with a conditional clause that specifies the structure of the rest of the stanzas. The poet tells the ghost that if he comes back to Dublin simply to look at his monument, or to enjoy the evening sea breeze, or to watch the seagulls float or the bleak Dublin houses look beautiful, it should be satisfied. If not, or if it expects more, it should return to its tomb, because the Dubliners are still the same crafty, mercantile, distrustful people, busy with their intrigues.

In the second stanza, the poet refers to Hugh Lane, the contemporary painter who dedicated himself to the well-being of Ireland, being similar to the Irish nationalists. Like Parnell, he could have influenced generations of Irish children with great thinking. If he had been allowed to follow his dreams for Ireland, he might have instilled sweet emotions in them through his art, but his efforts had been met with insults and injury by resentful characters such as William Martin Murphy.

In the third point, the poet urges the ghost to leave unnoticed, covering his head with a bedspread, for the people of Dublin would only ridicule him, as they had done before he died. The poet asks him to go back to his tomb, a better place for him to be.

Analysis of the poem

The poem is addressed to the ghost of Parnell in three stanzas of unequal length. The first stanza has 9 lines, the second 10, while the third contains 7 lines. This corresponds to the uneven progress of the thought of the poem, and the tonal undulation through it. The first stanza concerns Parnell, the second stanza remembers Hugh Lane, while the third moves back to Parnell.

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The first stanza of the poem is addressed to the spirit of Parnell who is imagined as revisiting the city of Dublin with a craving to appear upon the monument that has been erected in Parnell’s honour or to look the ghostly splendour of eighteenth-century houses alongside the quays. Yeats advises the ghost of Parnell not to live on in Dublin, even though the occasion of his visit be the fact that a memorial has been erected in his honour because the people of the town who had deceived him before his death are still ‘at their old tricks.’ The poet’s resentment towards the Irish people is articulated very well as he wondered that the builder of Parnell’s monument might not actually have been rewarded for his pains.

Perhaps, the ghost has revisited the town, insists Yeats, because of its own charms. In fact, Parnell loved Dublin so well that his spirit was bound to visit the place and feel happier due to a desire to taste once again the beauty of a Dublin evening when the saltish breeze blows from the sea, grey-gulls keeps flying around, and houses, which are otherwise old and haggard, wear a majestic look for a while. Parnell’s ghost is advised to leave the place and if it at all comes to pay another visit to Dublin, it should be satisfied with these tastes and sights and then go back to the grave because the people of the town have not yet given up ‘their old tricks’ which were responsible for causing frustration to Parnell.

The 2d stanza pays a homage to Hugh Lane who was once a person of revolutionary zeal and emotional fervour similar to Parnell. Here, Yeats, regarding Hugh Lane controversy, reserves the best reward for Lane who proposed to bring for the folk of Dublin a gift in the form of several French artworks if a right kind of artwork gallery may well be provided for them. Had the Dubliners acknowledged its value and accepted it, it could have influenced their youngsters with spectacular ideas and stylish feelings for generations. But instead of acknowledging the significance of such a gift and the creative and aesthetic impact it could have exercised upon their youngsters, insult was once heaped upon Hugh Lane, ‘for his pains’ and shame ‘for his openhandedness.’ Rather than honouring him for his beneficent and genuine be offering, abuses had been hurled upon him by Dubliners. They came here from a bunch of people that had been incited by the newspaper-owner William Murphy, who was once an enemy of Parnell previously. The ideal of service is spurned by those men and a man who brings advantages is, like Parnell, ‘driven from the place.’ The stanza rises to passionate scorn and links Parnell and Lane; Yeats reminds Parnell’s ghost that Ireland has learnt not anything from its errors in Parnell’s case; issues are as they’ve at all times been and thus reasonably mistaken for a person of Parnell’s sort is not any time for Parnell’s ghost to return.

Having given the example of Hugh Lane to turn out the ingratitude of Dubliners, the closing stanza sounds off the last image of Parnell’s reminiscence with an appeal to the ghost of Parnell to go back to its grave within the Glasnevin cemetery in north Dublin- the place where Parnell was once buried. Yeats asks the ghost to assemble the cover supplied by the earth around its head ‘till the dust stops your ear’ so that it won’t hear what the ungrateful Dubliners can be announcing all the while. The ghost, indeed, need not stay on as a result of Parnell had already suffered enough sorrow before he dies.

The maximum poignant part of the poem comes when the poet catches up the picture of Dublin’s good looks by announcing that the time has now not arrived for him ‘to taste of that salt breath/ And listen at the corners.’ The poem concludes with a satiric thrust that Parnell is more secure within the tomb than in Dublin which has heaped insult upon him in addition to Lane.

The stanza is outstanding for its ironic remark at the perspective of recent Irish society and turns into efficient for its mix of pathos and exhortation.

The form of the poem sustains its theme. It is through alliteration such as “grey
gulls,” and “ salt breath out of the sea,” that the poet conveys concrete imageries.

Assonance is also used to similar effects. For example in the following line,

where the ‘o’ sound is repeated in the musical pattern:

Whether to look upon your monument

The poet uses a simile to convey the great contribution of Irish heroes like Hugh

Lane to the Irish society:

Sweeter emotion, working in their veins

Like gentle blood, has been driven from the place,

The simile “like gentle blood” communicates how the cultural revival augmented by artists like Lane transformed the very character of Irish future generation by instilling true values in them.

The rhyme and rhythm of the poem is rather irregular. The first two stanzas
follow a set rhyme scheme, but the third is completely uneven. An irregular rhythmic pattern is used to suggest the tone of the poem which is cynical, angry, and even bitter. It almost forces the reader to pause and think about the ingratitude of the Dubliners towards their national heroes.

Critical Comments

“To a Shade” is a poem which intermixes formal with colloquial rhetoric with the remark; its imagery is economical in addition to evocative. The great thing about Dublin stands as a contrasting symbol towards the ugliness of ‘the pack,’ it shows how Yeats got here to treat mob drive as an unfavourable effect. At the similar time, the ‘old tricks’ echo in the course of the ‘old foul mouth.’ A critic says that ‘the aristocratic ideal of unselfish service is sketched in passionately yet entirely unsentimentally: its demands are passion, full hands, pains; it rewards may be disgrace and sorrow. The sorrow is, ultimately, the poet’s in addition to that of Lane and Parnell, however, the actual shame is Dublin’s.’ Yeats’s discontent with Irish politicians was once based at the opinion that they espoused hole explanation why and practised hypocrisy. The public controversies that stirred Yeats’s creativeness in his centre years roused him to salary a non-public assault at the centre elegance in Ireland. They had destroyed Parnell and later Synge. Yeats’s defence of Parnell, Synge and Hugh Lane- in my view and through his voice as a poet- contrasts his centre along with his precedent days.

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In taking the sort of stand he sought to unify and toughen his ideal of Ireland that any national delight must be deep-rooted within the tradition, custom and historical past of the Irish country itself.

Model Question Answers

Q. 1 Who are the figures addressed or referred to in the poem? How does the
poet relate to them?
Answer: The poem is addressed to the ghost of Charles Stewart Parnell, the most prominent Irish politician of the later 19th century. Another Irish hero
referred to in the second stanza is Hugh Lane, a painter, and a nationalist,
who made efforts to establish Dublin’s Municipal Gallery of Modern Art. Both these personalities earned great respect for Yeats for their contribution to Irish nationalism.

Q. 2 Why Parnell and Lane are still ignored in Ireland? What has been Ireland’s loss because of their absence?
Answer: William Butler Yeats It is the selfishness of the middle-class Dubliners and their ingratitude that is responsible for the neglect of the memory of these two illustrious Irish heroes. In their lifetime, they become the target of the scheming and intriguing people around them. Parnell met his downfall in the aftermath of the exposure of his affair with a married woman, who had not yet taken divorce. Hugh Lane, on the other hand, who could have inspired generations of Irish children by his artwork, fell due to intrigues of certain individuals like William Martin Murphy. If Parnell had continued as a leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, he could have served Ireland far longer.

Q. 3 Why does the poet urge the ghost of Parnell to return to its tomb with its head covered?
Answer: The poet advises the ghost of Parnell to cover his head while returning to its tomb, to save itself from the embarrassment caused by the lack of regard and respect from the people, even when they recognise him.

Q. 4 Comment on the style of the poet? What poetic devices has the poet used
to convey the meaning of the poem?
Answer: The poem is rendered in a colloquial style. It is characteristic of the Yeatsian talk, a mode Yeats mastered, whereby he would present the speaker in conversation with a persona.

Naturally, therefore, the diction is simple and clear. He uses poetic devices such as personification, smile, and alliteration. The phrase “salt breath out of the sea” is an instance of personification. He uses alliteration when he, for example, sets up a repeated pattern of ‘g’ and ‘s.’ His use of smile in the phrase “like gentle blood” intensifies the poet’s feeling for Hugh Lane.

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