poet William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats

#25 on top 500 poets

An Irish Airman Forsees His Death

I KNOW that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Poem Submitted: Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Form: Sonnet

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Comments about An Irish Airman Forsees His Death by William Butler Yeats

  • Michael WalkerMichael Walker (9/18/2019 8:57:00 PM)

    A haunting dramatic monologue. The Irish airman is ambivalent about fighting in the air against Germany.
    'A lonely impulse of delight ' is what drove him to the high clouds and danger. He does not hate the enemy, nor does
    he love his own people. A great poem about patriotism and individual motivation.

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  • peter connor (12/20/2017 8:35:00 PM)

    One of the great poems...

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  • Jay Blue (1/25/2016 11:17:00 PM)

    Something about this haunts me. The imagery, yes, but the phrasing steals the show. Incredible verse!

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  • Soumita SarkarSoumita Sarkar (1/2/2016 6:22:00 AM)

    excellence.... at the height.

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  • Des Drumm (12/16/2013 11:50:00 AM)

    This poem has grown on me hugely over the years since my father died. He was from the Republic of Ireland and volunteered for Bomber Command in World War 2, where he flew 32 missions as a rear gunner in Lancasters. This poem has really made me think about his motivations and how he must have felt at night in the skies over Germany. Unfortunately he died 14 years ago so I will never know, since he never spoke much about it and we did not ask enough of the questions while he was alive. Whenever I read the poem it brings back a lot of memories!

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  • Jack GrowdenJack Growden (10/24/2013 12:08:00 AM)

    Really good poem! Yeats is brilliant.

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  • Andrew Hoellering (12/19/2009 5:05:00 AM)

    The airman realises that the statistical chances of survival are against him the longer he continues as a fighter pilot.
    His country is Southern Ireland, which unlike the North was not directly involved in WW 1, and therefore will be unaffected by its outcome.
    Why then does he fight? Not for the usual patriotic reasons; rather because:
    A lonely impulse of delight/Drove to this tumult in the clouds.
    From the way Yeats writes it, it is the irresistible impulse that is doing the driving (‘tumult’ suggests something enjoyable, unlike, for instance, ‘dogfight’.)
    The airman has made a rational decision, and the last lines are beautifully balanced to suggest that neither past nor future can match the danger and excitement of the present.

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    Raymond Farrell(6/7/2015 8:48:00 PM)

    Ireland was not independent at the time of WW I what you are talking about is WW II when the the Republic was neutral.

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  • Kafil Uddin Raihan (8/6/2009 3:33:00 PM)

    Excellent poem with deep thoughts......

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  • Laura Dawson (4/1/2009 6:30:00 PM)

    By far my favourte poem...
    The recurring theme of balance and temperence- classic Yeats and beautifully written in the thoughtful-dream like fashion.
    Entrancing and prophetic for such a short poem. It has made me think on many occasions- What is the nature of choice? Is it possible to balance all? Is death really so predictable and simple?

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  • Swaminathan Ravikumar (8/23/2008 1:06:00 AM)

    One of my favorites... a man, totally indifferent of the war, driven only by his pleasure of flying, very nicely portrayed here.

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  • Michael Mcavoy (11/9/2007 10:17:00 AM)

    I find this typically Yeats...........he conveys the thoughts of the young airman,
    who finds himself embroiled in the carnage of the Western Front.Despite the
    almost inevitiability of his own death, he conciously will continue his ariel war
    against an'enemy ' he neither knows nor loathes.A war conducted against other
    young men, not unlike himself......the best their country has to offer, also.
    The melancholy and poignancy which Yeats creates is particularly emotive.
    in this week of rememberance.The terrible waste and futility of war, was never
    bettered, even by the acknowledged ww1 poets, at their most convincing.
    Yeats is a particlar favourite of mine.

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Read poems about / on: loss, lonely, hate, fate, death, life