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This report is taken from PN Review 226, Volume 42 Number 2, November - December 2015.

W. B. Yeats’s ‘Upon a House Shaken by the Land Agitation’: A Personal Reading Thomas Kinsella
How should the world be luckier if this house,
Where passion and precision have been one
Time out of mind, became too ruinous
To breed the lidless eye that loves the sun?
And the sweet laughing eagle thoughts that grow
Where wings have memory of wings, and all
That comes of the best knit to the best? Although
Mean roof-trees were the sturdier for its fall,
How should their luck run high enough to reach
The gifts that govern men, and after these
To gradual Time’s last gift, a written speech
Wrought of high laughter, loveliness and ease?



Title: The poem, from The Green Helmet (1910), relates to the period of Home Rule, the Land League and the early Land Acts; a particular house not specified, but it is a big house of the Protestant landed gentry, with the Ascendancy feeling under threat at the prospect of the compulsory transfer of land ownership to the tenant-occupiers.

Lines 1–4: A rhetorical question. The world would not be luckier with the ruin of this house: a house long established; its occupants distinguished, with qualities originating beyond the reach of memory and matured over long periods of time; with attributes that seem conflicting – of great emotion and power, yet of precision and scrupulous care, and with vision capable of staring direct at the sun.

Lines 5–7: Vision compared to that of the eagle; and with other aquiline qualities, matching the eagle’s for ...


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