“An Irishman Foresees 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 country is Kiltartan Cross,||5|
|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 man, nor cheering crowds,||10|
|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||15|
|In balance with this life, this death.|
The analysis of this poem, in which a fighter pilot who is about to die in battle meditates on the reasons which lead him to fight, can proceed in the following steps.
Step 1: Establishing the social, individual and natural dimension in the poem
1.a. analysis of ll. 1-10
The first part of the poem mainly articulates three dimensions, the social, individual and natural dimensions:
1.b. analysis of ll. 11-16
Natural dimension: What makes the airman tick, i.e. initiate action, is not his social bonds, but “A lonely impulse of delight” (11). The expression "impulse" definitely joins the individual and the natural dimension, and their antagonism towards society: an impulse is what 'I' 'feel'. Now the individual will is activated by a feeling, and that feeling emphasises the separation of persona and society.
Step 2: Establishing the metaphysical dimension in the poem
2.a. analysis of ll. 1-2
The first part of the poem already implies the metaphysical dimension when the airman intimates that he "shall meet [his] fate" (1), and "in the clouds above" (2); "clouds" and "fate" imply metaphysics. What exactly metaphysics means, however, is explained and put in connection with the other dimensions only from line 11 onwards, above all in line 16.
2.b. analysis of ll. 11-16
In this second part, metaphysics joins individuality and nature in the final line: “In balance with this life, this death” (16).
Conclusion: Initially, then, in this poem society is equated with life and individuality and nature with death. A further step, however, could well bring us to acknowledge that the kind of social life that exists in the text is akin to death in life, given that social life is “A waste of breath”. Conversely, life could be the brief but supreme airborne experience of the airman. Thus we can find in this text an opposition between individualism and society, an individualism that is understood in natural and ultimately metaphysical terms. We can, however, also see how metaphysics is distributed along each of the other dimensions.
The table below shows the approximate distribution of the dimensions along the poem (the keywords which suggest the dimensions appear in bold).
|I KNOW that I shall meet my fate (1)|
|Somewhere among the clouds above; (2)|
|Those that I fight I do not hate (3)|
|Those that I guard I do not love; (4)|
|My country is Kiltartan Cross, (5)|
|My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor, (6)|
|No likely end could bring them loss (7)|
|Or leave them happier than before. (8)|
|Nor law, nor duty bade me fight, (9)|
|Nor public man, nor cheering crowds, (10)|
|A lonely impulse of delight (11)|
|Drove to this tumult in the clouds; (12)|
I balanced all, brought all to mind (13)
|The years to come seemed waste of breath, (14)|
|A waste of breath the years behind (15)|
In balance with this life, this death (16)