In Memory of W.B. Yeats Poem Summary line by line

In Memory of W.B. Yeats Poem Summary line by line

In Memory of W.B. Yeats Poem Summary line by line-In Memory of W.B. Yeats by W.H. Auden serves as a heartfelt elegy dedicated to the esteemed Irish poet W.B. Yeats, who passed away in 1939. Crafted shortly after Yeats's death, this poem pays homage to his significant influence on the literary world.

In Memory of W.B. Yeats Poem Summary line by line

In Memory of W.B. Yeats Poem Summary line by line-Through evocative imagery and reflective language, Auden not only mourns Yeats's passing but also explores themes of mortality, artistic legacy, and the enduring resonance of poetry. The poem stands as a sincere tribute to Yeats's lasting impact and underscores the timeless relevance of his literary contributions.

In Memory of W.B. Yeats Poem Summary


"He disappeared in the dead of winter:"

The poem opens with the mention of Yeats's death, emphasizing the timing of his passing during the cold season.

"The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,"

The setting is described, with frozen streams and empty airports, suggesting a somber, desolate atmosphere matching the poet's death.

"And snow disfigured the public statues;"

The weather, with snow covering public monuments, symbolizes the loss and mourning felt by society at Yeats's death.

"The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day."

The image of the mercury dropping symbolizes the decline of life or vitality associated with the end of the day, further reinforcing the theme of death.


"What instruments we have agree"

The poet reflects on the agreement among various tools or means of communication about the death of Yeats.

"The day of his death was a dark cold day."

The darkness and coldness of the day underscore the solemnity and chill of Yeats's passing.

"Far from his illness

The poem shifts to Yeats's illness, suggesting a physical and emotional distance from it.

"The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,"

Metaphorically, life and nature continue despite Yeats's illness and death, with wolves representing untamed natural forces.

"The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;"

Nature, symbolized by the river, remains untouched and unmoved by the artificiality of urban life, represented by the "fashionable quays."

"By mourning tongues The death of the poet was kept from his poems."

Despite the mourning expressed by many, the poet's death did not affect or alter the essence of his written works.

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"But for him it was his last afternoon as himself, An afternoon of nurses and rumours;"

For Yeats, his final moments were marked by the presence of caregivers and rumors surrounding his condition.

"The provinces of his body revolted, The squares of his mind were empty, Silence invaded the suburbs, The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers."

These lines describe the physical and mental decline experienced by Yeats in his final moments, as his body and mind succumbed to illness, and he became a reflection of those who admired him.

"Now he is scattered among a hundred cities And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,"

Following his death, Yeats's presence is dispersed across numerous places, and he is subject to new emotions or experiences beyond the physical world.

"To find his happiness in another kind of wood And be punished under a foreign code of conscience."

In death, Yeats seeks a different kind of fulfillment, subject to a new moral or ethical framework.

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"The words of a dead man Are modified in the guts of the living."

The impact and interpretation of a deceased writer's words change over time as they are internalized and reinterpreted by those who remain alive.

"What he wrote was written, now it is only The living who can read it."

The poet reflects on the permanence of Yeats's written works, which now rely on the interpretation of the living for meaning.

"And today the abstracted scholar Speaks of an older oppression,"

Scholars now analyze Yeats's works in the context of past injustices or struggles.

"And today the audient cancer Is incidental to the versification."

The poet notes that contemporary concerns, such as cancer, are secondary to the analysis of Yeats's poetry.

"His words have now to be more than an addition, A continuation, and extension of himself, They have to be so much more than himself Or they are nothing."

Yeats's words must transcend his individual identity and become something greater in order to retain their significance and value.

"For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives In the valley of its making where executives Would never want to tamper, flows on south From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, A way of happening, a mouth."

The poet reflects on the enduring nature of poetry, which exists independently of worldly events and continues to exist as a form of expression and communication.


"Earth, receive an honoured guest: William Yeats is laid to rest. Let the Irish vessel lie Emptied of its poetry."

The poem concludes with a farewell to Yeats, honoring his memory and recognizing his contribution to literature.

"In the nightmare of the dark All the dogs of Europe bark, And the living nations wait, Each sequestered in its hate;"

These lines evoke a sense of foreboding and chaos, with the darkness symbolizing societal unrest and division.

"Intellectual disgrace Stares from every human face, And the seas of pity lie Locked and frozen in each eye."

The poet laments the prevalence of intellectual and moral failure among humanity, with empathy and compassion suppressed or dormant.

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"Follow, poet, follow right To the bottom of the night, With your unconstraining voice Still persuade us to rejoice;"

The poet urges future poets to continue their work, using their voices to inspire joy and optimism even in the darkest of times.

"With the farming of a verse Make a vineyard of the curse, Sing of human unsuccess In a rapture of distress;"

Poets are encouraged to transform life's trials and failures into sources of inspiration, cultivating beauty and meaning from adversity.

"In the deserts of the heart Let the healing fountain start, In the prison of his days Teach the free man how to praise."

The poem concludes with a call for poetry to serve as a source of healing and liberation for humanity, teaching individuals how to find and celebrate freedom even amidst life's limitations and challenges.

In Memory of W.B. Yeats Poem Themes

Mortality and Transience: The poem delves into the transient nature of life and the inevitability of death, particularly focusing on the passing of W.B. Yeats and the broader theme of human mortality.

Legacy and Enduring Influence: Auden contemplates the lasting impact of Yeats's literary legacy, suggesting that his works will continue to resonate and influence future generations, immortalizing his memory beyond his physical existence.

Grief and Mourning: There's a palpable sense of grief and mourning throughout the poem, mourning not only the loss of Yeats but also reflecting on the broader sense of loss inherent in the human experience.

Transformation through Art: Auden explores the transformative power of art, particularly poetry, highlighting its ability to convey profound emotions, provoke thought, and offer solace amidst turmoil and uncertainty.

Hope and Renewal: Despite the somber tone, there are undertones of hope and resilience, as Auden suggests that poetry and artistic expression can serve as beacons of hope, inspiring joy and praise even in the face of adversity.

Reflection on the Human Condition: The poem prompts reflection on the complexities of the human condition, exploring themes of love, loss, and the pursuit of meaning in a world marked by impermanence and change.



"In Memory of W.B. Yeats" by W.H. Auden stands as a moving tribute to the legacy of the renowned poet W.B. Yeats. Through Auden's eloquent verses, readers are invited to reflect on themes of loss, mortality, and the enduring power of literature. The poem serves as a reminder of Yeats's profound influence on the literary world and his lasting impact on subsequent generations of poets.


1. Who is the poet of "In Memory of W.B. Yeats"?

A: The poet is W.H. Auden.

2. When was "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" written?

A: The poem was written shortly after the death of W.B. Yeats in 1939.

3. What is the main theme of the poem?

A: The main themes of the poem include mourning, mortality, artistic legacy, and the enduring impact of poetry.

4. Why is W.B. Yeats remembered?

A: W.B. Yeats is remembered for his significant contributions to English literature, particularly in poetry and drama. He was a key figure in the Irish literary revival and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923.



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