Rebellion Analysis: Good or Bad?
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William Butler Yeats’s poems “Easter 1916” and “The Second Coming” each portray the theme of rebellion. However, rebellion is not always heroic and these two poems clash with one another to prove this point. “Easter 1916” contains text which presents rebellion as a positive action; whereas, “The Second Coming” makes the reader believe rebellion only leads to pure chaos and disorder until the end of time. In addition, Claude McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” supports the idea of rebellion as a positive, honorable movement with examples throughout the text. Tales of rebelliousness and heroism have been used throughout history to inspire and give hope of something greater. Throughout “Easter 1916”, Yeats speaks of Ireland’s evolution to an independent, stable, changed country. For Ireland to achieve such stability, they need rebellion. Rebellion and change go hand-in-hand in this poem because there cannot be change without some type of rebellion. Throughout this poem Yeats speaks of change in the people which ultimately leads to the Easter Rebellion. they desire a change for a better life. He says, “That woman’s days were spent/In ignorant good-will,/Her nights in argument/Until her voice grew shrill” (SITE QUOTE) which implies that this woman dedicates her days and nights to fighting for Ireland’s Huff 2
rights as a nation. Yeats speaks of these martyrs to inspire the people of Ireland and to show the people that they can make a difference. Change is so important to the Irish people because they continuously watch as colonies become cities and cities become united nations. The Irish finally decide to become the nation they desire to be, and they accomplish this through a rebellious stage which is very important. Moreover, Yeats continuously says, “A terrible beauty is born” (CITE HERE) throughout “Easter 1619”. This quote is extremely significant because it describes the unity of Ireland’s citizens to achieve independence; however, lives will be lost in the process. The “terrible” of the quote is all of the blood and death Ireland faces due to the rebellion.
However, this rebellion is so honorable and heroic because Ireland is under England’s control. The Irish plan the rebellion knowing they are risking their lives for freedom. The “beauty” of the quote lies within the unity of the people for the first time for the greater good of the people as well as the possibility of freedom from England’s control. On the contrary, “The Second Coming” paints a different picture of rebellion. Yeats writes, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” (SITE HERE) which describes the world at the time of a rebellious period. The world is literally falling to pieces because it is the end of time. Rebellion in this poem is not heroic; instead, rebellion seems to signify the end of life as people know it. Of course all rebellion involves disorder, chaos, and usually death, but rebellion does not serve as much purpose in this poem as it does in “Easter 1916.” Rebellion marks the end instead of a new beginning in “The Second Coming”.
In “The Second Coming”, the society widens and widens out of control. Yeats includes his emotions into this poem when he speaks of the Christian Revelation of the second coming of Christ. Yeats, along with the people of this society, is looking for a change. They believe that the coming of Christ may be the change they desire at this time. This poem is full of anticipation because the people want a way out of the lives they are living, and cannot stand the nightmare they are in. Just as Yeats did in “Easter 1916”, McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” also tells a story of how being rebellious can also in many ways be heroic. He writes “O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe! Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, and for their thousand blows deal one deathblow.” (Cite here) stating that though they are far outnumbered and death is a great possibility they will stand together and fight until the very end.
Together they will rebel as a group in hopes of a better life, fighting the impossible battle but appearing as heroes to the ones they are fighting for. There have been many other tales where heroes have formed from characters being rebellious. Robin Hood is a good example of rebelliousness. In the story “Robin Hood” the main character Robin Hood leads a band of marauders and confronts corruption in their local village leading to the uprising of the king. He takes the gold that he steals and gives it to the poor townspeople in the villages controlled by the king. This is the perfect case of how being rebellious can be heroic. Though Robin Hood is a vigilante and a thief he appears to be a hero to the people of the many villages. Every tale of rebelliousness can be looked at positively as heroism or negatively as a case of treason. Huff 4