Friday, November 15, 2019

A prayer for my daughter

A Prayer for my Daughter" is a poem by William Butler Yeats written in 1919 and published in 1921 as part of Yeats' collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer. It is written to Anne, his daughter with Georgie Hyde Lees, whom Yeats married after his last marriage proposal to Maud Gonne was rejected in 1916.[1] Yeats wrote the poem while staying in a tower at Thoor Ballylee during the Anglo-Irish War, two days after Anne's birth on February 26, 1919.The poem reflects Yeats's complicated views on Irish Nationalismsexuality, and is considered an important work of Modernist poetry.

As the poem reflects Yeats's expectations for his young daughter, feminist critiques of the poem have questioned the poet's general approach to women through the text's portrayal of women in society. In Yeats's Ghosts, Brenda Maddox suggests that the poem is "designed deliberately to offend women" and labels it as "offensive". Maddox argues that Yeats, in the poem, condemns his daughter to adhere to 19th-century ideals of womanhood, as he focuses on her need for a husband and a "Big House" with a private income.

Joyce Carol Oates suggests that Yeats used the poem to deprive his daughter of sensuality as he envisions a "crushingly conventional" view of womanhood, wishing her to become a "flourishing hidden tree" instead of allowing her the freedoms given to male children. This was after Yeats was rejected in marriage by Maud Gonne. In Oates' opinion, Yeats wishes his daughter to become like a "vegetable:immobile, unthinking, and placid." 

Majorie Elizabeth Howes, in Yeats's Nations, suggests that the crisis facing the Anglo-Irish community in "A Prayer for My Daughter" is that of female sexual choice. But, she also argues that to read the poem without the political context surrounding the Irish Revolution robs the text of a deeper meaning that goes beyond the relationship between Yeats and the female sex.


1Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
2Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
3My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
4But Gregory's wood and one bare hill
5Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
6Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
7And for an hour I have walked and prayed
8Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.
9I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
10And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
11And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
12In the elms above the flooded stream;
13Imagining in excited reverie
14That the future years had come,
15Dancing to a frenzied drum,
16Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.
17May she be granted beauty and yet not
18Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,
19Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
20Being made beautiful overmuch,
21Consider beauty a sufficient end,
22Lose natural kindness and maybe
23The heart-revealing intimacy
24That chooses right, and never find a friend.
25Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
26And later had much trouble from a fool,
27While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
28Being fatherless could have her way
29Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.
30It's certain that fine women eat
31A crazy salad with their meat
32Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.
33In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned;
34Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
35By those that are not entirely beautiful;
36Yet many, that have played the fool
37For beauty's very self, has charm made wise,
38And many a poor man that has roved,
39Loved and thought himself beloved,
40From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.
41May she become a flourishing hidden tree
42That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
43And have no business but dispensing round
44Their magnanimities of sound,
45Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
46Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
47O may she live like some green laurel
48Rooted in one dear perpetual place.
49My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
50The sort of beauty that I have approved,
51Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
52Yet knows that to be choked with hate
53May well be of all evil chances chief.
54If there's no hatred in a mind
55Assault and battery of the wind
56Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.
57An intellectual hatred is the worst,
58So let her think opinions are accursed.
59Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
60Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn,
61Because of her opinionated mind
62Barter that horn and every good
63By quiet natures understood
64For an old bellows full of angry wind?
65Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
66The soul recovers radical innocence
67And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
68Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
69And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will;
70She can, though every face should scowl
71And every windy quarter howl
72Or every bellows burst, be happy still.
73And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
74Where all's accustomed, ceremonious;
75For arrogance and hatred are the wares
76Peddled in the thoroughfares.
77How but in custom and in ceremony
78Are innocence and beauty born?
79Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,
80And custom for the spreading laurel tree.
Publication Start Year: 
1921

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