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W. B. Yeats’s Two Contradictory Voices Concerning Irish Nationalism

Jakwang Gu


There are two contradictory voices in W. B. Yeats concerning Irish nationalism.One is for support of Irish nationalism against the English colonial reign and itsaccompanying heroic sacrifices for the cause of Ireland. The other one is criticismagainst excessive demands for sacrifices for the sake of independence of Ireland.Instead of putting the first voice ahead of the second one, Yeats tries to record thetwo voices at the same time: the voice of justification of sacrifices for nationalismand the voice warning danger in nationalism as a commentary on nationalism. Theseambivalent attitudes toward nationalism cannot be understood just as his uncertaintiesand ambivalent stance he took on Irish politics and his lack of understanding ofreality. Rather, Yeats could be said as a faithful recorder of the inner territories ofexperiences of individuals in everyday life and reality under colonial reign and itscountermovement of nationalism. He does not ignore the intimate and latent feelingsof individuals (on the side of "body") heard through the loud exclamations ofnationalistic causes (on the side of "spirit").
Yeats can be said as a postcolonial poet in so far as he supports Irishnationalism but with a hint of anti-nationalistic attitudes, he also raises questionsabout danger in postcolonial politics. He cannot be called just a crude propagandistof Irish nationalism. Rather by taking balanced attitudes toward nationalism andexcessive sacrifices of individuals through nationalistic causes, Yeats suggests thatnationalism could be an ideology and gives a warning sign that postcolonial politicsshould not forget its dark side.

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