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Disenchantment with the Modern Age in Yeats’ No Second Troy

Disenchantment with the Modern Age in Yeats’ “No Second Troy”

“No Second Troy” expresses Yeats’ most direct vision of Maud Gonne, the headstrong Irish nationalist he loved unrequitedly throughout his life. The poem deals with Yeats’ disenchantment with the modern age: blind to true beauty, unheroic, and unworthy of Maud Gonne’s ancient nobility and heroism. The “ignorant men,” without “courage equal to desire,” personify Yeats’ assignment of blame for his failed attempts at obtaining Maud Gonne’s love. The poet’s vision of his beloved as Helen of Troy externalizes his blame by exposing the modern age’s lack of courage and inability to temper Maud Gonne’s headstrong heroism and timeless beauty.

Yeats wrote this poem in December of 1908, comparatively early in his lifelong relationship with Maud Gonne. In a letter to his father dated December 29, 1908, Yeats writes from Paris and mentions lunching with Maud Gonne that afternoon . This is after a three year period in which Maud Gonne distanced herself socially after the failure of her first marriage in 1905. Despite his seeing Maud Gonne around the time he wrote the poem, and there being no documented disagreement, “No Second Troy” is in the past tense, indicating that he has given up on their romantic relationship.

The first half of the poem begins with the poet expressing his heightening disapproval of Maud Gonne’s politics. He questions whether he should “blame her that she filled my days with misery.” A. Norman Jeffares writes in W. B. Yeats that “the second line’s ‘of late’ refers to Maud Gonne’s withdrawal,” but the poem seems to blame her inactivity on the “ignorant men” for not having “courage equal to desire,” rather than her marital problems. These “ig…

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…his beloved’s timelessness also appears in “Reconciliation.” Yeats writes, “Some may have blamed you that you took away the verses,” leading the poet to write about “kings, / Helmets, and swords, and have-forgotten things / That were like memories of you.” These poems tie together the poet’s vision of Maud Gonne as a woman misplaced in time, possessing, as Giorgio Melchiori writes, a “proud beauty and fire…in which a noble past clashes with a mediocre present.”

“No Second Troy” attempts to deal with the failure of Yeats’ relationship with Maud Gonne without placing blame on either his beloved or himself. Instead, the poet criticizes the age in which they live, and blames its inability to sustain the burning of Troy for ideal beauty. In an age of “ignorant men” whose lack of courage cannot embrace Maud Gonne’s stoic beauty, there is no second Troy to burn.

A Comparison of the Masks In Cold Blood, Streetcar Named Desire, and Fences

Peeking Behind the Masks In Cold Blood, Streetcar Named Desire, and Fences

In life, we all attempt to project some kind of personality to others. We have a mask we wear in different situations, but when times get tough, we eventually discard our masks and become our true selves. We don’t live behind our masks until the tragic end, like the characters of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, and Fences by August Wilson. The three characters, Perry Smith, Blanche DuBois, and Troy Maxson wore masks to their bitter endings, always trying to fool everyone else. When times got tough, they had to face themselves, and they could not stand the sight.

The characters of Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire by Williams), Troy Maxson (Fences by Wilson) and Perry Smith (In Cold Blood by Capote), all had an image they hoped to project. They wanted everyone else to see them in a certain way. Each character had their own delusions about whom they were and what they wanted to project to others. The three hide behind masks in an attempt to be confident and faultless.

For example, in the case of Blanche DuBois we are introduced to a woman who portrays herself as a southern belle, a woman who is supposed to be genteel. It doesn’t take long before the audience can recognize DuBois for what she really is. However, she never gives in, or admits to what the audience can see in her. DuBois is drawn to a life of illusion. She tells people she is a schoolteacher on leave, when she has actually lost her job for becoming involved in an affair with a much younger man (Harris 444). Laurie Lanzen Harris states,

She presents herself as an innocent, virginal young woman ….

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Nance, William L. “The Worlds of Truman Capote.” Contemporary Literary Criticism 13 (1970): 137-138.

Shafer, Yvonne. “Breaking Barriers: August Wilson,” in Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American

Theatre and Drama. Contemporary Literary Criticism 118 (1999): 405-406.

Shannon, Sandra G. “The Good Christian’s Come and Gone: The Shifting Role of Christianity in August Wilson

Plays,” in MELUS. Contemporary Literary Criticism 118 (1999): 382-384.

Vogel, Dan. “The Mask of Oedipus Tyranos,” in The Three Masks of American Tragedy. Contemporary Literary

Criticism 5 (1976): 504-505.

Works Consulted

Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: The New American Library, 1940.

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: New Directories, 1947.

Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Plume, 1985.

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