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A Prayer for My Daughter – Analysis

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Analysis of A Prayer for my Daughter by W.B. Yeats, Stanzas 9-10 Stanza 9: Yeats states that if hatred is ridded off, “the soul recovers radical innocence.” Hatred causes sin and violence; hence to be rid of it is to be innocent of these crimes. Innocence is beautiful in women. “Innocence” is radical because it is rooted in the soul. “Considering that, all hatred driven hence, / The soul recovers radical innocence”. A radical is a term for a root. In another perspective, the “innocence” is “radical” or unconventional because after the war, innocence became more uncommon. Hence, it is “radical” or something new to be innocent, as it defies the flow of convention.

“And learns at last that it is self-delighting, / self-appeasing, self-affrighting”. Innocence causes these attributes in the soul. It delights the soul, for there is no hatred; it is peaceful and soothing, yet it is “self-affrighting’ because it is frightening that others can take advantage of one’s innocence.

“That its own sweet will in Heaven’s will; / She can, though every face should scowl / And every windy quarter howl / Or every bellows burst, be happy still.” Goodness is heaven’s will because the soul is supposed to be good. Goodness makes Anne happy: “its own sweet will is Heaven’s will.” Yeats states that Anne can still be happy amid chaos, unhappiness, quarrels and problems if she is innocent and free of hatred. “She can, though every face should scowl/ And every windy quarter howl/ Or very bellows burst, be happy still. If she is good, no one can harm her. So males will not overwhelm her (?) If the soul knows itself, “wind” or destructive forces cannot harm her, for the mind is at peace with itself.

Literary devices: repetition – “self-delighting/ self-appeasing, self-affrighting” Parallelism – “self-delighting/ self-appeasing, self-affrighting” Metaphors – “every face should scowl” – unhappiness and hostility “bellows burst” – chaos, arguments. May have reference to McBride’s “hot air” or people’s blaring opinions without effect.

Tone: revealing, fantasizing, prophesizing

Stanza 10: Yeats hopes that Anne will marry “and may her bridegroom bring her to a house/Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious.” He wants her to have a good, traditional husband. Perhaps he wants her to marry into a good, ceremonious family. He wants her to live in custom and ceremony. He does not want arrogance and hatred in her home, as that happens commonly outside in the vulgar, common crowds “thoroughfares” and would demean herself. Possibly referring to the destructive forces outside. It is demeaning, lowering herself and being rude, as one can find “arrogance and hatred” in the “thoroughfares” as though they re common, crude “wares.” Innocence and beauty and cultivated by custom and ceremony. Yeats brings out his ideal virtues – custom, ceremony, grace, aristocracy and innocence. “How but in custom and ceremony/Are innocence and beauty born?” If we take “born” for its literal meaning, however, Yeats wants his daughter to have innocent, beautiful children and these virtues are inculcated through custom and ceremony. Couplet: “Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,/And custom for the spreading laurel tree.”

The rich Horn of Plenty is positive now; as it has offerings, it allows ceremony. For it is ceremonious to have good things and offer them. Perhaps Yeats wants Anne to be well-off and comfortable. A horn also represents ceremony when one blows it to announce something. Custom is a tradition which is “rooted.” When you plant a tree, it roots, Hence, custom is represented by a tree. The home which inculcates custom is the root of the children’s virtues. Hence, custom is represented by a tree. The spreading laurel tree, is custom but earlier on ,it is mentioned that Anne is a laurel; tree. As laurel tree represents custom, it is “spreading” because Yeats wants Anne to spread custom among her family. A laurel tree may be seen as a family tree. In that case, it is also spreading because Yeats wants Anne to have children – the branches which spread, making a bigger family – and spread custom throughout the generations. Note that the term “olive-branches” means offspring. This is particularly apt because in this stanza, Yeats speaks of marriage, hence children are born and custom is spread.

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