Seamus Cooney Yeats's "Meru": a different kind of sonnet

W. B. Yeats

The following tough but marvellous sonnet is by W. B. Yeats. The questions that follow are by Hugh Kenner.


Civilisation is hooped together, brought
Under a rule, under the semblance of peace
By manifold illusion; but man's life is thought,
And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
Ravening through century after century,
Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
Into the desolation of reality:
Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!
Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,
Caverned in night under the drifted snow,
Or where that snow and winter's dreadful blast
Beat down upon their naked bodies, know
That day bring round the night, that before dawn
His glory and his monuments are gone.

  1. What is the image in line 1? Need a barrel contain anything to stay together? May the staves have a variety of shapes, or is strict uniformity of structure necessary? What makes the hoops stay on? What, in detail, is Yeats implying about "civilisation"?
  2. In line 3 he is contrasting "civilisation" and its "manifold illusion" with thought which is "man's life." What happens to this idea in line 4? What is the image in line 6? A wild boar, or something less specific? What made the desolation? Were Egypt, Greece, and Rome destroyed by natural forces?
  3. What relationshiop can you find between line 10 and line 1?
  4. If poems were classified by their rhyme scheme, how would this one be classified?
  5. [A final note, from me: as I read it, the antecedent of "his" in the last line is "day."]