Easter, 1916 poem by W.B. Yeats Summary line by line

Easter, 1916 poem by W.B. Yeats Summary  line by line

Easter, 1916 poem by W.B. Yeats Summary  line by line-In the verses of "Easter, 1916" by W.B. Yeats, an in-depth exploration unfolds, capturing the tumultuous narrative of the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland. Through vibrant language and evocative imagery, Yeats delves into the profound consequences of the rebellion, examining themes such as sacrifice, nationalism, and the enduring impact on both individuals and the collective identity of a nation.

Easter, 1916 poem by W.B. Yeats Summary  line by line

Easter, 1916 poem by W.B. Yeats Summary  line by line-The poet's contemplation of the intricate emotions and complexities surrounding this pivotal moment in Irish history renders "Easter, 1916" a timeless piece that navigates the intersection of personal destinies with the sweeping currents of political upheaval.

Easter, 1916 poem Summary  

"I have met them at close of day" - The speaker reflects on meeting the rebels at the end of the day, suggesting a personal connection.

"Coming with vivid faces" - The rebels are described as having lively and intense expressions, showing their passion.

"From counter or desk among grey" - The rebels emerge from mundane, everyday occupations, suggesting a sudden and unexpected transformation.

"Eighteenth-century houses." - The setting is described as old, possibly symbolizing the historical background.

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"I have passed with a nod of the head" - The speaker acknowledges a casual acquaintance with the rebels.

"Or polite meaningless words," - The acknowledgment is not deep or meaningful, perhaps suggesting a lack of understanding or connection.

"Or have lingered awhile and said" - The speaker may have stopped to exchange a few words with the rebels.


"Polite meaningless words," - Emphasizes the superficiality of the interactions.

"And thought before I had done" - The speaker reflects on their thoughts after encountering the rebels.

"Of a mocking tale or a gibe" - There's a sense of skepticism or mockery surrounding the rebels' cause.

"To please a companion" - The speaker may have initially dismissed the rebels to fit in with societal expectations.

"Around the fire at the club," - The club represents a place of social gathering and conformity.

"Being certain that they and I" - The speaker feels a sense of certainty about the differences between themselves and the rebels.

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"But lived where motley is worn:" - The rebels live in a different world marked by diversity and nonconformity.

"All changed, changed utterly:" - A turning point is signaled, suggesting a radical transformation.

"A terrible beauty is born." - Despite the violence and upheaval, something beautiful and awe-inspiring has emerged from the rebellion.

"That woman's days were spent" - The speaker reflects on a woman's life that has been affected by the events.

"In ignorant good-will," - She lived in innocent ignorance before the rebellion.

"Her nights in argument" - Her nights are now filled with discussions and debates about the political situation.

"Until her voice grew shrill." - The woman becomes passionate and emotionally charged in her opinions.

"What voice more sweet than hers" - Despite the shrillness, her voice is described as sweet and compelling.

"When, young and beautiful" - The speaker reflects on the attractiveness and vigor of the rebels in their youth.

"She rode to harriers." - The woman used to engage in leisurely activities like riding.

"This man had kept a school" - Another individual is introduced, who was once a schoolteacher.

"And rode our winged horse." - The man was involved in the rebellion and fought with great zeal.


"This other his helper and friend" - A third person is mentioned, serving as a companion to the schoolteacher.

"Was coming into his force;" - This person is now entering the peak of his strength or influence.

"He might have won fame in the end" - Despite his potential for success, the man's fate took a different turn.

"So sensitive his nature seemed," - He was a delicate and sensitive person.

"So daring and sweet his thought." - His ideas were bold and appealing.

"This other man I had dreamed" - The speaker had a premonition or vision about this person.

"A drunken, vainglorious lout." - However, the reality is disappointing, as the man is now depicted negatively.

"He had done most bitter wrong" - The man has committed serious offenses.

"To some who are near my heart," - The wrongs have affected people close to the speaker.

"Yet I number him in the song;" - Despite his faults, the man is included in the speaker's poetic reflection.

"He, too, has resigned his part" - The man has played a role in the unfolding events.

"In the casual comedy;" - The unfolding events are described as a casual, almost random, theatrical performance.

"He, too, has been changed in his turn," - The man has undergone a transformation.

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"Transformed utterly:" - Another indication of a profound change.

"A terrible beauty is born." - Repeating the idea that, despite the turmoil, something striking and beautiful has emerged.

"Hearts with one purpose alone" - The rebels are united by a common goal.

"Through summer and winter seem" - Despite the passing seasons, their commitment remains steadfast.

"Enchanted to a stone" - Their hearts are described as being transformed, possibly hardened or enchanted by their cause.

"To trouble the living stream." - They disrupt the normal flow of life with their revolutionary actions.


"The horse that comes from the road," - Shifting to a metaphorical horse, possibly representing the rebels' movement.

"The rider, the birds that range" - Describing elements of nature affected by the disturbance.

"From cloud to tumbling cloud," - Imagery of changing skies and instability.

"Minute by minute they change;" - Emphasizing the constant and dynamic nature of the rebellion.

"A shadow of cloud on the stream" - The presence of the rebels casts a shadow over the normal course of events.

"Changes minute by minute;" - The repetition reinforces the idea of constant change and flux.

"A horse-hoof slides on the brim," - A vivid image of a horse moving along the edge.

"And a horse plashes within it;" - The movement and sound of a horse in the water.

"The long-legged moor-hens dive," - Depicting the natural wildlife responding to the disturbance.

"And hens to moor-cocks call;" - The disruption affects the communication and behavior of birds.

"Minute by minute they live:" - Reiterating the theme of constant change.

"The stone's in the midst of all." - Amidst the chaos, there is a central, unchanging element.

"Too long a sacrifice" - The speaker reflects on the prolonged sacrifice endured.

"Can make a stone of the heart." - The sacrifices, over time, can harden the heart.

"O when may it suffice?" - The speaker questions when the sacrifices will be enough.


"That is Heaven's part, our part" - Acknowledging a divine or higher purpose in the sacrifices.

"To murmur name upon name," - Our role is to remember and honor those who sacrificed.

"As a mother names her child" - Drawing a parallel to a mother affectionately naming her child.

"When sleep at last has come" - Referring to the end of the turmoil and struggle.

"On limbs that had run wild." - Describing the exhaustion of those who have actively participated.

"What is it but nightfall?" - A metaphorical nightfall representing the end of the tumultuous events.

"No, no, not night but death;" - Correcting the metaphor to emphasize the gravity of the situation.

"Was it needless death after all?" - The speaker questions the necessity of the sacrifices.

"For England may keep faith" - Considering whether the deaths were in vain or if there's hope for a positive outcome.

"For all that is done and said." - Reflecting on the actions and words spoken during the rebellion.

"We know their dream; enough" - Acknowledging the rebels' aspirations.

"To know they dreamed and are dead;" - Recognizing that the dreamers are now deceased.

"And what if excess of love" - Considering whether an overwhelming love for one's country led to these sacrifices.

"Bewildered them till they died?" - Wondering if their intense passion and dedication led to confusion and death.

"I write it out in a verse—" - The speaker expresses these reflections through poetry.


"MacDonagh and MacBride" - Mentioning two prominent figures in the rebellion, Thomas MacDonagh and John MacBride.

"And Connolly and Pearse" - Referring to James Connolly and Patrick Pearse, key leaders of the Easter Rising.

"Now and in time to be," - Recognizing the lasting impact of their actions.

"Wherever green is worn," - Green, a symbol of Irish nationalism, will forever be associated with these individuals.

"Are changed, changed utterly:" - Reiterating the profound transformation brought about by the events.

"A terrible beauty is born." - The concluding line repeats the idea of a striking and awe-inspiring outcome emerging from the turmoil.

Easter, 1916 poem Themes

Transformation and Shift:

The poem underscores the profound and transformative impact of the Easter Rising on individuals and society.

Emphasizing the irreversible nature of change, lines like "All changed, changed utterly" and "A terrible beauty is born" highlight the radical shift brought about by the rebellion.

The Price of Freedom:

The poem reflects on the sacrifices made by those who participated in the Easter Rising for the cause of Irish independence.

By questioning whether the deaths were "needless" and acknowledging the sacrifices of individuals like MacDonagh, MacBride, Connolly, and Pearse, the poem conveys the high cost paid for the pursuit of freedom.

Nationalism and Patriotism:

The poem explores the fervent nationalism and patriotism that motivated the rebels to take action.

Through symbols like the color green, representing Irish nationalism, and references to significant leaders, a strong sense of national identity is portrayed.

Conflict and Repercussion:

Yeats addresses the conflict between the rebels and the English authorities and the consequences of their actions.

Metaphorically, disrupted natural imagery, such as the disturbed stream and frightened wildlife, illustrates the upheaval caused by the rebellion.

Memory and Commemoration:

The poem grapples with the act of remembering and commemorating those who participated in the Easter Rising.

The commitment to "murmur name upon name" and honor the memory of the fallen underscores the importance of remembrance in preserving the legacy of the rebellion.

Irony in History:

The poem reflects on the irony that some initially dismissed or not fully understood rebels later become heroic figures in the nation's history.

Contrasting initial perceptions with the lasting impact on Ireland's history adds complexity to the narrative.

Individual vs. Collective Identity:

The poem explores the tension between individual lives and the collective identity of a nation.

Personal stories, like that of the woman who once enjoyed leisurely pursuits and the schoolteacher turned rebel, are interwoven into the broader narrative of the Irish struggle for independence.

Ambiguity of Progress:

The poem questions the nature and necessity of the rebellion and reflects on whether the sacrifices made were ultimately justified.

Uncertainty regarding the outcome and the speaker's contemplation of the rebels' dreams and deaths introduce ambiguity to the theme of progress.


In conclusion, W.B. Yeats's "Easter, 1916" stands as a poignant exploration of the transformative and sometimes tragic consequences of the Easter Rising in Ireland. Through vivid imagery and thoughtful reflection, the poem delves into themes of sacrifice, nationalism, and the lasting impact on both individual lives and the collective identity of a nation. The juxtaposition of personal stories with the broader historical context creates a rich tapestry of emotions and reflections on the complexities of this pivotal moment in Irish history.

The repeated refrain of "All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born" encapsulates the essence of the poem, emphasizing the irreversible and profound shift brought about by the rebellion. The sacrifices made by individuals like MacDonagh, MacBride, Connolly, and Pearse are acknowledged, and the poem raises questions about the necessity and ultimate outcome of such sacrifices.

As the poem concludes, the themes of remembrance and the enduring legacy of the rebellion persist. The commitment to "murmur name upon name" signifies the importance of honoring the memory of those who participated in the Easter Rising, acknowledging their dreams and sacrifices.


1. What is the central message of "Easter, 1916"?

The central message of the poem revolves around the profound transformation brought about by the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland. It explores themes of sacrifice, nationalism, and the enduring impact on both individuals and the collective identity of the nation.

2. What does "A terrible beauty is born" mean?

This phrase, repeated in the poem, encapsulates the idea that significant and often tumultuous events give rise to something awe-inspiring and transformative. The beauty born out of the rebellion is described as "terrible" due to the cost and upheaval associated with it.

3. Who are MacDonagh, MacBride, Connolly, and Pearse mentioned in the poem?

Thomas MacDonagh, John MacBride, James Connolly, and Patrick Pearse were historical figures who played prominent roles in the Easter Rising of 1916. They were leaders and participants in the rebellion, and their names are memorialized in the poem.

4. What is the significance of the color green in the poem?

The color green is a symbol of Irish nationalism and is often associated with the desire for Irish independence. In the poem, references to green underscore the fervent patriotism and national identity that motivated the rebels to take action.



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