Among School Children

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  • Among School Children
    • Form
      • Ottava Rima
        • traditionally used for heroic or epic poetry; it is likely no co-incidence that this form is chosen for this particular poem of ‘epic reflection’
      • The poetry now becomes more urgent as the rhythm is broken at the line endings (enjambment)
      • rhyming couplet makes this an auhoritive statement – the poet’s imagination is triumphant over time and circumstance.
    • Context
      • This poem (alongside Sailing to Byzantium) is ironically one of Yeats’ most private poems – it is a poem of self-reflection, rather than of overt political metaphor
      • The  Quattrocento was a period of increasing prosperity and steady progression in the arts toward the harmonious balance achieved in the High Renaissance.
      • 1)     ‘Plato’ the idealist, dismissive of nature2)     ‘Soldier Aristotle’, more of a materialist, but remembered here as the tutor of Alexander the Great, whom he punished with ‘the taws’ (a Scottish word for a schoolmaster’s leather strap)3)     ‘Pythagoras’ the mathematician and astronomer who believed in the music of spheres – music unable to rouse the interest of the ‘careless muses’.
        • ‘old clothes upon old sticks’ which dismisses all the three philosophers as no more than scarecrows since their ideas have failed to save them from the humiliations of the ageing body.
      • critic Frank Kermode"no static image will now serve, there must be movement, the different sort of life that a dancer has by comparison with the most perfect object of art"
      • Yvor Winters "the body is always bruised to pleasure soul; wisdom is always born out of midnight oil or something comparable"
    • Links
      • ‘sixty-year-old smiling public man’ – reference to Sailing to Byzantium with the description, and ambiguous reaction to, age "No country for old men"
      • Leda and the Swan --          " Ledean body" Maud Gonne
      • He says that its ‘better to smile on all that smile’ at him, the ageing man, and to show that he can bear the process of ageing without complaint. The scarecrow imagery is reminiscent of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ where he describes old age as ‘a tattered coat upon a stick’. However here Yeats is trying to avoid bitterness.
      • In comparison to ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ where Yeats looks for an ideal out of nature, ‘Among School Children’ finds its solution to the dichotomy between the children and the ageing man of its first stanza in the contemplation of an ecstatic natural harmony.
      • Yeats accepts Maud's rejection - link Cat and the Mon  he accepts that the moon is inaccessible, “And lifts to the changing moon/ his changing eyes”.
    • Quotes
      • The two images of Maud and Yeats’ unity are offered, first the ‘sphere’ (attributed to Plato’s writings) and then the earthly image of ‘the yolk and white of an egg’
      • ‘old clothes upon old sticks’ which dismisses all the three philosophers as no more than scarecrows since their ideas have failed to save them from the humiliations of the ageing body.

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