Among Schoolchildren (1927)
This great poem starts with some ironic reflection about the public figure Yeats inspecting a school and evolves into an inquiry into the nature of the human condition, the broken dreams in life, the perfection that can be envisaged in art, and the Labour's of love, creation, understanding and being.
By the time Yeats wrote this poem, he had become a Senator of the new Irish State, a well known, widely recognised poet and public figure who had earned fame and respect.
It was occassioned in part by a visit to a school in 1926, but what is so striking about it is the contrast between the successful public figure and the private turmoil going on at the same time. It is great poem, one that reaches out into questions about old age and the tragic and triumphant in the human condition and in art. There are many interpretations of its complexities, but looking at it in the light of 'Sailing to Byzantium' and other of Yeats' poems enables us to see him exploring similar themes and ideas.
Yeat seems again to question to point of life, of education, of growing up, of love since its ends in the tradegy of old age and broken dreams. Is life worth the trouble of being born? What does life mean? Even the great philosophers mentioned in the poem and end up ridiculous- the victim of old age. Finally, what do we make of the perfection art and the imagination can give us compared to the realities of human experience?
The first part of the poem is fairly straightforward. The poet walks through the schoolroom 'questioning'- doing his job as a school inspector, but also asking questions of himself. It is noticeable that it is a 'long' schoolroom- perhaps anticipating the journey through aspects of his life he subsquently invites us on on.
The tone of the writing is wry, perhaps ironic, for although the children are being taught in the 'best modern way', there is a sense that the learning going on is somehow rather formal, quite different from the tumultuous education of real life that awaits them and which the poet recalls from his own experience. There is also a kind of descent in the experiences from 'cipher and sing' down to bring 'neat in everything' that, in the context of what is to come, seems almost illusory. Yeats lets us see him for a moment as they see him- a 'smiling public man', whose face belies his inner turmoil
In the second verse, Yeat takes us into his inner self and memories of Maud, and a moment of sharing plantonic union of thought and feeling. He recalls his feelings over some 'reproof', or telling off, and then in a wonderfully lyrical passage he talks about how their two souls 'blent/ Into a sphere', or became as close and interdependent as the yolk and white of an egg. Plato suggests that in love of another person we find…