Irony of Fate in W.B.Yeats Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? Assignment

Irony of Fate in W.B.Yeats Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? Assignment Words: 1488

Irony of Fate in W. B. Yeats Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? The poem “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? ” by William Butler Yeats is a poem that brings insight into Yeats is life and his perception of life. In this poem, Yeats transmits to the reader how life can be unpredictable. This poem portrays the true reality of life, which is bitter and harsh. Yeats is focus in this poem is turned towards life and he uses many people close to him in this poem to demonstrate examples of how life can be a game of fate. Yeats in this poem tries to explain how nothing can be sure about life.

He chooses people in his life he knew well to depict how they had potential but life and fate ended up cutting them short. Even though these people were the ones who had high potential overtime fate ended up changing their lives. This poem, “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? ” (1) is really asking why should not old men be insane? The word mad refers to as driven insane, and not as in angry. Also “men” and “mad” in this sentence are a clear use of alteration and Yeats uses it to place emphasis on these words. Yeats also tries to explain to the reader from this line why old men have a right to be insane.

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Throughout this poem Yeats tries to explain why old men are mad by comparing the past to the present and how is changes. He does this by using couplets to pair together examples that demonstrate the reasons overtime why potential was wasted. Yeats also used couplets to transition from one verse to another. Yeats used an A, B, A, B rhyme scheme to demonstrate the pairing together of verses. He wants to place emphasis on the pairing together of verses to allow the reader to better understand the theme of the poem and also so he can stress the truth about life and demonstrate the change over time.

Yeats first attempt to explain to us why old men should be made is, “Some have known a likely lad” (2). By likely Yeats means promising, likely to succeed or do something significant. Here he is saying everyone in their lifetime has known someone who was promising or had potential. Then Yeats goes on to explain the people in his life who were significant and he felt had the most potential. This is where the poem starts to stress the truth through comparing the outcomes of these people lives that were actually contradictions.

After Yeats mentions a “young lad” someone who was vibrant, full of life, and potential, he says “That had a stout fly-fisher’s wrist / Turn to a drunken journalist” (3-4). Here Yeats uses symmetry to contrast between a strong lad and drunken journalists. By saying drunken journalist Yeats is most likely referring to Bertie Smylie, the editor of The Irish Times whom was one of his acquaintances. Through contrast Yeats is able to unfold the irony of fate. Yeats also uses parallelism in this poem, “A girl that knew all Dante once / Live to bear children to a dunce;” (5-6).

Here the parallelism is also used to contrast between a intellectual, and smart girl that obviously liked to read and a husband that ended up being a disappointment and not so bright. By the “girl” Yeats is probably referring to Iseult Gonne, who was Maud Gonne daughter and was close to Yeats in a romantic sense. She ended up refusing to marry Yeats and eventually married Francis Stuart who is referred as the “dunce” in this poem. Francis ended being a disappointment as a writer and husband. Here Yeats makes a transition between the past and the future of how fate ended up playing a role in this girl’s life.

Even though she has a lot of potential she ended up being a disappointment as well. Yeats keeps reiterating that it is unwise to trust the nature of life, “A Helen of social welfare dream, / Climb on a wagonette to scream” (7-8). Helen possibly is referring to Maud Gonne or Constance Gore-Booth, both women were highly educated but Contance was the one who was more politically active. Yeats here is referring to “Helen” as a person who is dreaming of social welfare, it could be any common person.

Helen jumps on a wagonette to scream, here you can see the contrast and rhyme between scream and dream. Only time you could possibly scream when you are dreaming it when you have a nightmare. You can see the change between a positive outlook (a dream) becoming a negative (a nightmare). Now in the poem Yeats starts to explains how some people believe that life just takes a natural course and eventually fate or chance takes over: “Some think it a matter of course that chance / Should starve good men and bad advance,” (9-10).

People say that chance takes over life but Yeats does not believe in that because he uses the words “some think” Some people think it’s a matter of course that luck, fate, or anything outside human control should starve good men and make them unsuccessful; on the other side bad advance would advance bad men, and make them move towards success or bring them good fortune. In the next couple of lines, which are: ” That is their neighbors figured plain, As though upon a lighted screen, No single story would they find Of an unbroken happy mind, A finish worthy of the start” 11-15) Yeats refers to “neighbors” which are people near the good and bad. These “neighbors” that surrounded the good and bad “figured plain” meaning if they thought out clearly, they would not find a “single case” of people who have “an unbroken happy mind” or who have “a finish worthy of the start” meaning who fulfilled their potential. I believe Yeats contrasted good and bad people together to stress that even though these individual were highly thought of (good men) and seen on a ” lighted screen” that they still ended up where chance brought them. Yeats in lines thirteen uses alliteration, the words ” single” and “story. Yeats does this because he wants to keep the symmetry in the poem present throughout and by using alliteration he is able to do this, he is also able to present the theme in each sentence to portray the irony of fate. Yeats main message was here was to show how fate could work in odd ways. Even if a man is good or bad fate can play it role without looking at that aspect. Good men can become unsuccessful and bad men successful, because fate does not judge it only plays itself out. In end of the poem Yeats explain why “young men” have no knowledge of life and how chance or fate can play a role.

Yeats says, “Observant old men know it well;” (17), he is saying that only wise old men that might have experienced or seen this for themselves know about the journey of life and its struggles. Also once again in this sentence Yeats uses alliteration to enforce symmetry in his poem the words: “observant” and “old. ” He also says that “observant old men” know about what “old book tell. ” I think this could be referring to two things, a reference to the bible or he could be speaking about how old men know everything about old book because they have obtained this knowledge over time.

Once again he is speaking about time and how it change people, how old men become wise overtime. These “observant old men” know everything about “old books” (life) and so they know better that nothing greater is out there for them to experience or have and this is why old men should have the right to be insane. Overall, this poem is sad because it gives no hope to the young or old but in the end it is true. The poem depict life how it truly is, even thought the truth can be harsh. This poem is informative in the sense that it tells us that nothing is sure about life.

This poem by W. B. Yeats might be short but it is deep and complex on many levels. Yeats uses many tactics to illustrate his message of the poem, which is the irony of fate. He puts the poem in couplets and this is a brilliant format for this poem to be presented in because we are able to see the contrast and change over time with the examples that are presented to us. The poem stresses the truth through contradictions, paradoxes, alliteration, parallelism, and symmetry. This poem has a important message for the youth and it sympathizes with the old.

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Irony of Fate in W.B.Yeats Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? Assignment. (2018, Nov 12). Retrieved February 2, 2023, from