Poems about war and political events are often also patriotic, but the poems discussed in this section are those whose central theme is love of one's country and, often, excessive love that sees one's native land as inherently superior to all others. England has a reputation for such patriotism due to its central role in world affairs since the Renaissance. The turbulent history of Ireland has also raised up heroes and nationalistic fervor, however, and Ireland's many poets, novelists, and playwrights have for centuries chafed against English rule.
William Butler Yeats's “Easter 1916” concerns a week-long rebellion of Irish nationalists against the British government, which had long been delaying the promise of independence for Ireland and was now too busy with World War I to consider it. Fifteen of the leading rebels were executed, bringing their cause renewed support. Yeats supported Irish nationalism because he saw Britain as exemplifying modern materialism and greed, and he thought an independent Ireland would be better able to maintain its ties with an ancient, more heroic culture, associated with the songs and legends of the western coast. Like many Irishmen, he had revered earlier Irish heroes like Charles Parnell, Wolfe Tone, and John O'Leary (about whom he wrote in “September 1913”), and these new heroes had become martyrs in the Irish cause. The poem suggests an ambivalence in Yeats's view of their sacrifice. Was it worth it, and were they just ordinary people whose deaths made them noble?
The poem's first stanza describes the ordinary, drab life of the speaker and his fellow office workers. But after the rebellion, all is overturned, and a “terrible beauty is born.” The second stanza describes some of the rebels—Countess Markiewicz, Padraic Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Major John MacBride—as belonging to the laughably innocent former times, when they all wore “motley” like jesters and were just playacting until