Maud Gonne: Irish Patriot Who Inspired Yeats' "No Second Troy"

Maud Gonne MacBride.

Love, Obsession and Rejection

She was immortalized as a woman of uncommon beauty and virtue by the Irish Nobel laureate poet William Butler Yeats (June 13, 1865 - January 28, 1939). But Maud Gonne MacBride (December 21,1866 - April 27, 1953) was much more than a turbulent muse. This English-born actress became an Irish revolutionary, a champion of Irish culture, and a steadfast defender of woman´s rights.

Gonne rejected at least four marriage proposals from Yeats, and this unrequited love became one of the themes of Yeats' poetry. "No Second Troy" is one of Yeats' most popular poems, celebrating Gonne's beauty and talents, and describing the social and political turmoil that influenced her and other Irish patriots to fight for independence.

 

"No Second Troy",  William Butler Yeats (from "The Green Helmet and Other Poems", 1912)

Why should I blame her that she filled my days

With misery, or that she would of late

Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,

Or hurled the little streets upon the great.

Had they but courage equal to desire?

What could have made her peaceful with a mind

That nobleness made simple as a fire,

With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind

That is not natural in an age like this,

Being high and solitary and most stern?

Why, what could she have done, being what she is?

Was there another Troy for her to burn?

 

Why Is This Poem Relevant Today?

"No Second Troy" is an emotional and intellectual snapshot of the influences that shaped and divided Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But while Yeats characterizes Gonne as an object of social and political unrest who taught "ignorant men most violent ways", Maude rejected violence in her 1938 autobiography "A Servant of the Queen."

She wrote: "I have always hated war and am by nature and philosophy a pacifist, but it is the English who are forcing war on us, and the first principle of war is to kill the enemy."

Critics however argue that Yeats uses Gonne as a symbol or a metaphor for young women and men who could not find suitable outlets for their talents in early 20th century Ireland.

Gonne's rejection of Yeats, also allows the poet to insert himself as a character in "No Second Troy." When reflecting on his own personal misery about unrequited love, Yeats draws parallels with the collective misery of Ireland. He sees the country divided against itself--working class vs. upper class--and the poet, like Gonne and their Irish contemporaries, could not find the balance they needed to align their "minds, bodies and souls."

By recognizing Gonne's uncommon beauty and talent, the poem shifts the blame from Ireland's youth to a much wider crisis in the British Empire that provoked violence, repression, and social and political unrest.