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By Ellyn Willis

Ireland had been under English control for about 400 years when Yeats was writing, and in that time the British had been importing their own culture, language, and politics. British rule was so invasive that the daily lives of the Irish were effected, not only the general outlines:

Loss of Gaelic language Loss of old traditions, political structures, and myths

Traditionally in Irish culture, the poet was often believed to be a protector of the community; as late as 1539, there were pacts between chieftains with poets acting as guarantors on the same level of significance as archbishops.

If one man reneged on his promise, the archbishop promised to excommunicate him, whereas if the other reneged, 3 established poets agreed to publically satirize him.

This information is gathered from Daithi O Hogains The Hero in Irish Folk History

By thinking of Ireland as part of the 3rd World, Yeats becomes part of a body of antiimperialist authors in the 19-20th centuries.

Said suggests that Yeats work is literature from an anti-imperialist resistance, developed out of a desire to distance the native Irish individual from British mastery. Saids redefinition of nationalism: resistance against an alien & occupying empire on the part of peoples possessing a common history, religion, and language.

In his book Inventing Ireland, Declan Kiberd suggests that a resistance writer learns from the occupier that society around him may be no more than the institutional inferences drawn from an approved set of texts. Irish writers were imitating English traditions to sell books. Yeats, as a resistance writer, is attempting to recreate Ireland, but has little authentic tradition to go on, as Ireland had been occupied by outside forces for so long.

Presents the idea that the Europeans tried to make their colonies look like home by importing everything from building methods and political systems to plants and animals. This practice alienates the natives from their authentic tradition, ways of life, and political organizations. Reaction? Natives begin myth-making retrospectively, reclaiming the land in a state that antedates imperialism.

Yeats was driven by a need to recover the landscape of Ireland, which he must begin through imagination because of the British presence: he began by reviving Celtic myth

In his early works, Yeats tries to revive Irish myths in a pure form, pulling strongly on figures from Celtic mythology in poems such as The Hosting of the Sidhe

This recreation is difficult, as Ireland never had a chance to define itself in modern terms independent from outside control:

Names of figures and myths have become Anglicized, even within the myths themselves.

Aengus/Aonghus Ogbeautiful love god who fell in love with Caer Ibormeith, who lived in the shape of a swan on a lake with 150 other swans until Sowain

He had to identify her correctly before he could claim & free her, much like the Irish had to identify themselves correctly before they could claim freedom.

FergusKing of Ulster; he made a deal with his brothers widow, Nessa, that her son, Conchobar, could rule for one year in exchange for her hand in marriage. At the end of the term, he found himself betrayed, and eventually exiled.

Like the Irish, Fergus has lost control of his country. The Irish had a similar promise from the English, who promised to reinstate self-rule, but kept postponing when.

Cuchulainnsingle-handedly defended home against invading forcers; was also a tragic figure, because he is constantly in love with women (several of whom he loses), is forced to kill his son as well as his best friend.

Seamus Deane suggests in Celtic Revivals that the limitless troubles of Cuchulainn are equal to the endless, meaningless recurrences in the Irish resurrection that anger Yeats
In poems such as Easter, 1916, September 1913, and

Nineteen Hundred Nineteen Yeats shows his frustration with the wasteful acts of his countrymen.

Niamhmarries Conganchas MacDaire, a warrior whom no one can slay, and then reveals his weakness to her father so that he may slay him. She then marries Conchobar Mac Nessa, son of the woman who betrayed Fergus.

This reference to Niamh shows later in Yeats work, after he has seen Maud Gonne incite so many men to battle and wasteful death.

Niamh & Oisingoddess of the Otherworld, who enticed Oisin into living with her for 300 years (although he believed only 3 weeks had passed).

Perhaps meant to show Irelands situation, stuck for an infinite amount of time in someone elses control because of deciet.

Sidhedwelling place of De Danaan after their defeat by the Milesians. The De Danaan were ancient gods, driven underground and minimized in memory to fairies.

The ancient gods of Ireland were minimized in power, just as Yeats Ireland had lost its land to the English.

The imperialists ideology maintained that the process was a result of natural fertility and infertility, geographical advantages, and climates, making it second nature to colonize the weaker. The anti-imperialists believed this made third nature necessary, one that builds on history and reinvents the nations self, instead of trying to retrospectively revert back to practices and beliefs that antedate colonization.

This requires new heroes, myths, and religions, as well as a resurrection of the native languages.

Yeats evolved from simply trying to revive Celtic myths to inventing some of his own, discovering that his previous vision of Ireland was not meshing with reality.

To this end, Yeats begins introducing characters such as Hanrahan , who he placed in the center in many myths of his own creation, such as The Book of the Great Dhoul and Hanrahan and Red Hanrahans Curse.

In his later works, Yeats shifts to an overwhelmingly classical myth base. Generally the myths he references are moments of violence that lead to great change, usually for the worse. Most frequent among these are:

Troy Helen Leda and the Swan

Also shifts his focus to Byzantium, as opposed to Sligo, his boyhood home.

Yeats mythological references within his work shift chronologically from trying to recreate purely Irish myth, to creating new myths and pulling on classical myths to support, to a focus on purely classical myth. I believe this process is a result of his disillusionment following the Irish unwillingness to revive old tradition, tendency towards violent uprising, and the Great War. The Ireland of his imagination simply was not meshing with reality, causing his shift to a new myth (Byzantium) that he could not be proven wrong about.

Crosby, Alfred. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Deane, Seamus. Celtic Revivals. New York: Wake Forest University Press, 1987. Ellis, Peter Berresford. Dicionary of Celtic Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1992. Hogain, Daithi O'. The Hero in Irish Fold History. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985. Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. Said, Edward W. "Yeats and Decolonization." Eagleton, Terry, Fredric Jameson and Edward W. Said. Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990. 69-98. Smith, Neil. Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1990.