William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was an Irish poet and playwright. Undoubtedly one of the greatest literary figures of the twentieth century, Yeats received a Nobel Prize in Literature in the year 1923. Here is an analysis of his poem “No Second Troy”, which he published in the collection Responsibilities and Other Poems in the year 1916.
No Second Troy
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?
One of the recurring aspect of Yeats’s poem is the inclusion of his personal experience; in “No Second Troy”, Yeats has imposed his experience into the history. This poem clearly displays Yeats misery caused due to his failure in love for Maud Gonne, a woman prominently known for her revolutionary activities against the British colonisers. The sense of rejection that arose owing to her stern refusals in spite of repeated proposals haunted him for a very long time. However, Yeats’ admiration for Maud Gonne never fully diminished.
“No Second Troy” begins with a rhetorical question:
“Why should I blame her..”
Yeats’ immense love for Maud Gonne makes him pursue her even after repeated rejection. Nevertheless, Maud Gonne’s non-reciprocity leads to a birth of contrary feelings that are apparent in the poem.
Yeats goes on to criticise Maud Gonne for inciting the common folk into violent ways during the Irish independence movement. Yeats, supposedly a conservative figure, disapproves of her radical beliefs and use of aggressive tactics. Still, Yeats acknowledges the majestic and fierce woman she is and therefore, he uses the mythical image of Helen of Troy, the legendary Greek beauty whose “face launched a thousand ships”. The purpose is to delineate the dangers and the suffering tied to her.
Yeats uses the metaphor of throwing a small street on a “great” one to accuse Maud Gonne of mongering warfare by stirring up the thoughts of the simple and “ignorant” Irish people, who have the “desire” to overthrow the British rule but in Yeats’ views, do not possess the “courage” for it and thus, it is improper.
Nonetheless, Yeats fails in finding a proper justification for putting a blame on her for the agony in his life or for her ill-considered encouragement of violent means of rebellion, as it is who she is, a ferocious beauty.
Next, Yeats asks another rhetorical question”
“What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,..”
Here, Yeats suggests Maud Gonne’s acuteness and the intensity of her rebellious notions, which make her quite restless. She puts her shoulders to the wheel to inspire, and the Irish people as well contribute in the efforts to overthrow the colonisers. Thus, she can’t have a “peaceful” mind as she’s focused on a single agenda; her thoughts are “simple” and hence, in Yeats view, noble.
For Yeats, Maud Gonne belongs to another age. She’s an extraordinary woman in an ordinary age. He compares her beauty to a “tightened bow”, graceful and elegant but containing a deep-seated, powerful tension. She indeed has incredible self-control, yet her outrage can be unleashed nimbly. Yeats again goes back to a classical sense of beauty, thus imparting Diana-like allure. She’s haughty, profoundly individualistic and “stern”. Her stubborn essential self absolves her of Yeats’ indictments.
The poem ends with Yeats asking:
“Was there another Troy for her to burn?”
Yeats simply reasserts his analogy between Maud Gonne, the manipulative yet statuesque woman and the dangerous ancient enchanter, Helen of Troy. Maud Gonne may be called the modern Helen, who alone led to great violence and the subsequent downfall of Troy; in the same way Maud Gonne too is heading for creating similar devastation with her potent fury and nationalist fervour as well as disregard for the earnest lover-poet. As Helen rules the imagination of the world, Maud Gonne too has that aura that makes her exceptional and untouchable, putting her on a heroic level all together. W.B.Yeats pays an eternal homage to Maud Gonne in this poem, immortalising his devout love for her as well as her ethereal beauty and her rabid beliefs that proved to be the bone of contention and to a great extent, prevented them to become lovers.