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Home > English Literature > Poetry CCEA > CCEA Poetry: Nature and war > An Irish Airman Forsees His Death

English Literature

An Irish Airman Forsees His Death

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Context

William Butler (W.B.) Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1865. He lived during a period of great change in his native country as it fought to achieve full independence from Britain. Some of the events Yeats experienced and wrote about were the 1916 Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War. World War 1 broke out during the latter struggle and many Irishmen went to fight for Britain.

In this poem, Yeats tries to show how they struggled with their identity as Irishmen who were risking their lives fighting for a country they did not feel was their own.

He believed passionately in a brand of Irish Nationalism where art and literature revived myth and legend, and where political figures were courageous people who would give Ireland a sense of what it was to be Irish. The question of national identity was never far from the poet’s mind.

The airman in the poem may well be based on Major Robert Gregory, son of Yeats’ patron Lady Augusta Gregory.

Poem

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An Irish Airman Forsees his Own Death

I know that I shall meet my fateSomewhere among the clouds above;Those that I fight I do not hate,Those that I guard I do not love;My country is Kiltartan Cross,My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,No likely end could bring them lossOr leave them happier than before.Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,A lonely impulse of delightDrove to this tumult in the clouds;I balanced all, brought all to mind,The years to come seemed waste of breath,A waste of breath the years behindIn balance with this life, this death.

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