Reading module nº6:


William Butler Yeats’ 1919 ‘An Irish Airman Forsees His Death’    &

Ezra Pound’s 1915 ‘Song of the Bowmen of Shu 



Poesía Inglesa Siglos XIX-XX

Curso 2005-2006

Profesor: Vicente Forés

Alumno: Alfredo Carbonell Rico


An Irish Airman Forsees His Death by W. B. Yeats

1 I KNOW that I shall meet my fate

2 Somewhere among the clouds above;

3 Those that I fight I do not hate,

4 Those that I guard I do not love;

5 My country is Kiltartan Cross,

6 My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,

7 No likely end could bring them loss

8 Or leave them happier than before.

9 Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,

10Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,

11A lonely impulse of delight

12Drove to this tummult in the clouds;

13I balanced all, brought all to mind,

14The years to come seemed waste of breath,

15A waste of breath the years behind

16In balance with this life, this death.



William Butler Yeats, from The Wild Swans at Coole (1919)







Song of the Bowmen of Shu by Ezra Pound

1 HERE we are, picking the first fern-shoots

2 And saying: When shall we get back to our country?

3 Here we are because we have the Ken-nin for our foemen,

4 We have no comfort because of these Mongols.

5 We grub the soft fern-shoots,

6 When anyone says "Return," the others are full of sorrow.

7 Sorrowful minds, sorrow is strong, we are hungry and thirsty.

8 Our defence is not yet made sure, no one can let his friend 9return.

10We grub the old fern-stalks.

11We say: Will we be let to go back in October?

12There is no ease in royal affairs, we have no comfort.

13Our sorrow is bitter, but we would not return to our country.

14What flower has come into blossom?

15Whose chariot? The General's.

16Horses, his horses even, are tired. They were strong.

17We have no rest, three battles a month.

18By heaven, his horses are tired.

19The generals are on them, the soldiers are by them.

20The horses are well trained, the generals have ivory arrows and

21quivers ornamented with fish-skin.

22The enemy is swift, we must be careful.

23When we set out, the willows were drooping with spring,

24We come back in the snow,

25We go slowly, we are hungry and thirsty,

26Our mind is full of sorrow, who will know of our grief?


By Bunno, reputedly 1100 B. C.



Ezra Pound, from Catia (1915)               




In this reading module we are going to compare the two preceding poems. Both of them are related chronologically with the First World War and the two of them deal with this topic, as we will show later on.

The first poetic composition is called ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his Death’. As we can guess from the title, it is going to deal with the thoughts of a pilot about his future. It is remarkable the proximity in space and time, for Ireland is a close country, and the term ‘Airman’ refers to a new profession in the XXth century which is pilot of the air forces.

On the other hand, the second poetic composition, titled ‘Song of the Bowmen of Shutakes us to a long distance both in time and space. The distance in space comes from the term ‘Shu’, which seems to be a far away oriental country. The distance in time comes both from the term ‘Bowman’, for the bow is a weapon that is no longer in use centuries ago and from the term ‘Song’, for we can easily perceive the oral tradition of the story-tellers which is also a profession extinguished a long time ago.


The structure of the poems is quite different as well. The first poem is structured in one stanza, with 16 verses of eight syllables each. The rhyme pattern followed affects each four verses and it is ABAB. This structure could reflect the fortitude of someone who faces a certain and known death.

The second poem is structured in one stanza too, but this time it is composed by 26 verses of an irregular number of syllables and an irregular pattern of rhyme too. This poetic structure could reflect the atmosphere of strong feelings and desperation we can feel when we read the poem.


The language used in both of the poems is very simple and clear, but still we can easily find strong differences in the use of it.

In the first poem, the language used has the oppositions as its main feature. Therefore, we can find in lines 3 and 4 the terms ‘fight’ and ‘hate’ against ‘guard’ and ‘love’. There is another strong confrontation constructed in lines 10, 11 and 12, where we can find the adjective ‘lonely’ opposed to the nouns ‘crowds’ and ‘tummult’. The last opposition, but the strongest one is built in line 16 and it is formed by the terms ‘life’ and ‘death’. In my opinion, the choice of this language expresses the confronted feelings the poet wants to describe in his poem.

The second poem is constructed around four main semantic fields concerning  war, sadness, nature and places. The words related to war are ‘foemen’ (line 3), ‘defence’ (line 8), ‘chariot’ (line 15), ‘general’ (lines 15, 19 and 20), ‘horses’ (16, 18 and 20), ‘soldiers’ (line 19), ‘arrows’ (line 20), ‘quivers’ (line 21), and ‘enemy’ (line 22). The words related to sadness and feelings are ‘sorrow’ (lines 6, 7, 26), ‘hungry’ (lines 7, 25), ‘thirsty’ (lines 7, 25), ‘bitter’ (line 13) and ‘tired’ (line 18). The words related to nature are ‘fern-shoots’ (lines 1, 5), ‘fern-stalks (line 10), ‘horses’ (16, 18 and 20), ‘flower’ (line 14), ‘willows’ (line 23), ‘snow’ (line 24), and ‘fish-skin’ (line 21). Finally, we find ‘Ken-nin’ and ‘Mongols’ as a placing element. As we can easily guess, this language structure perfectly builds a poem dealing with the topic of war and its effects in ancient times.


We can say about the grammatical person used in both poems that it is the first one. In the first poem, we find again and again the pronoun ‘I’ (lines 1, 3, 4, 13), and the possessive ‘My’ (lines 5, 6). In the second poem we constantly find the pronoun ‘We’ (lines 1 to 5, 10, 11, 17, and 23). In my opinion, through this literary device the authors are expressing their own feelings and sensations. In the first case it could be the poet as an individual human being and in the second one, the poet as a component of a society or a group.


Now we are going to compare the straightforward meaning of the poems and the images they evoke to deal with the topic of war.

In the poem by W. B. Yeats, we do not find too many images, for it is a poem based on a declaration of principles rather than a much more classical poem. In this manner, in lines 1 and 2, we can appreciate the resignation of the speaker towards the destiny he knows he will meet and in lines 3 and 4 we can see what could be an identity crisis, for the poet declares he does not really know what he is doing, although it is supposed to be an honourable act. In lines 5 and 6, the speaker also feels the alienation of society, for he declares to feel identified not with the country standards, but with the closest places and people. Finally, we can guess the existentialist crisis in lines 14 to 16, where the poet clearly declares the non-sense of this matter about the war. The only visual images we can find in this poem come from the ‘clouds’ (lines 2, 12) showing an idealistic place and the ‘cheering crowds’ and ‘tummult’ (lines 10, 12) evoking the return of the victorious soldiers.

On the other hand, in the poem by Ezra Pound we can find many powerful visual images that we could separate into three clearly differentiated parts. The first of them would run from line 1 to 14 and the description of the soldiers with their condition of life would be the main theme. As we can guess from lines 1 to 5 the speakers used to be farmers now forced to fight in a cruel war. The second part runs from line 15 to 21 and is for me the most visual one. It includes the description of the rulers of the army, the generals of it. As we can see in lines 15, 19 they have much better battle conditions than the soldiers and they also go to war better dressed and equipped (lines 20, 21). Finally, the third part of the poem would run from lines 22 to 26 and it would deal with the beginning of the battle itself, with the appearance of the enemy (line 22), the setting of the scene (lines 23 to 25) and the last thought of the soldiers before the action (line 26).

In my opinion, the reasons for the use of these literary devices are that the intention in the first case is to make a declaration of principles, while in the second one it is to describe a remote event, both in time and space, to a contemporary reader.


Personally, I have really enjoyed both the reading and the analysing of these poems, for they show a very simple and clear vocabulary and structure and a straightforward meaning. I also think that the poet/s perfectly transmit/s through two different ways sensations and feelings to the readers about the same topic by all the literary devices explained before.