Mar 21, 2000
A Prayer for my Daughter
¡¥A Prayer for my Daughter¡¦ is one of Yeats¡¦s outstanding works in the period of development of his theory of symbolism. When Anne Butler Yeats was born, Yeats was already fifty-four years old. The purpose of writing this poem for his daughter is he hoped she could have kindness and ceremony rather than only beauty.
In the first stanza, the author¡¦s design of the background is very negative¡Xa stormy day. This kind of choice seems in order to reflect the worry of the father. Or it may also because of their living surrounding. When writing this poem, Yeats was inhabiting in an old castle called Thoor Ballylee, which was close to the beach and always have strong wind. That is why he wrote, ¡§the wind bred on the Atlantic¡¨. We can find the binary here. The wind is so powerful, which can level off the roof and the haystack, and the obstacle is contrary weak. The stage is very unfavorable. The terrible wind seems to build the image of the anxious mind of the father for his daughter¡¦s uncertain future. The symbol of the wind may indicate the bad things or something that influence his daughter¡¦s life. The weak obstacle is himself who prayed for his daughter and hope her refusing those bad influences. The great gloom in the end of this stanza emphasizes his worry again.
We can find that the author¡¦s main idea of this poem, his claim of women¡¦s beauty, is revealed in the following stanza. He considers that being too beautiful is a tragedy for a woman. If a girl is too beautiful, she will depend too much on her beauty and look down on every other thing. This kind of outside beauty will easily make one person lose her inside virtues. When natural kindness and heart-revealing intimacy are replaced by the arrogance and selfishness, the lack of friend is predictable. Here, we can find the binary again. The author wants his daughter to attach more importance to the inside beauty (heart) than the outside beauty (appearance).
There is a very important image, which we can always find in Yeats¡¦s poetry, appearing in the sixth stanza again¡XBird! Just like the falcon in ¡¥the Second Coming¡¦ and the golden bird in ¡¥Sailing to Byzantium¡¦, Yeats once more uses bird as a very important symbol. Here, he uses linnet to represent one¡¦s inside virtues. In the first line, the hidden tree shows that he hopes his daughter not depend on her outside appearance. The linnet means the inside virtue and it will always spread kindness (magnanimities of sound) to others. Green laurel and dear perpetual place may show his wish for her eternal virtue.
The author reveals his idea of education in the seventh stanza. He wanted to teach his daughter never make heart filled with hate. We know that Yeats was refused by Maud Gonne and her daughter again and again. His heart was serious broken. However, he hopes his daughter to still have a gentle heart no matter what bad things ever happened. The wind here indicates the same meaning as in the first stanza¡Xthe bad influence. The last two lines means that the bad things (wind) won¡¦t divide the virtues (linnet) from her body. (tree)
In the eighth stanza, author repeats the badness of hatred. Here, the loveliest woman seems to mean Maud Gonne. We know that Yeats hates to be involved into politics. However, the woman (Gonne) he loved was devoted to the independence of Irish and always promoted violent revolution. Yeats always considered that Gonne shouldn¡¦t give up her wonderful life (Plenty¡¦s horn) and get into the politics. (old bellows) Again, the wind here means violence, something bad.
The final stanza reveals the care from a father to his daughter. He hopes she can have a happy marriage. Inside the ¡§house¡¨ is his ideal world that everything is in ceremony and custom. Arrogance and hatred were excluded from the house and only can be peddled in the thoroughfares. Finally, the author says that the born of the innocence and beauty must be in a ceremonious affluent world. (Ceremony¡¦s a name for the rich horn, and custom for the spreading laurel tree.) Here, we can find that the ideal living style of Yeats is an orderly noble agricultural society.
In this poem, we can see Yeats use several images as symbols. Wind symbolizes the bad things, bad influence, violence and the chaotic society. Linnet means the one¡¦s inside virtues. The tree indicates one¡¦s body, appearance. The Horn of Plenty shows an affluent life. Moreover, we can find a very important skill of Yeats in this poem. It¡¦s his use of dichotomy. All the elements he chose for this poem were separated into two parts¡X¡§inside¡¨ and ¡§outside¡¨. There are examples below. The outside storm and inside baby. The outside appearance and the inside virtues. The outside wind and the inside linnet. The arrogance and hatred outside the house and the custom and the ceremony inside the house. The whole poem¡¦s construction was based on this dichotomy. From this poem, we can find Yeats¡¦s great achievement of symbolism and dichotomy.