Monday, June 28, 2010
The Ballad of Father Gilligan
This is a narrative poem written by W.B. Yeats. As most of his flock
is dying, an old and devout priest gets to be weary and melancholy.
Though he is sent for by a dying man, he falls asleep in his chair and
fails to answer the call while the stars multiply and God keeps on
talking to mankind as ever.
The morning witnesses Father Gilligan awaking with a start and he
repents at not having his duty. On riding to the sick man’s hut, he
learns from the wife of the man of the death of the person. “Mavrone!”
– cries out the priest in horror but is surprised when the woman
thanks him for coming the night before. Falling to his knees, Father
Gilligan expresses his gratitude to God for sending an angel to do his
work when his weariness prevented him from doing his duty.
The poem takes the form of a ballad which was traditionally sung with
short and regular stanzas telling a short but profoundly meaningful
story. Yeats’s poems are not usually overtly religious, but this poem
is one. Though Yeats was a protestant who later turned to theosophy
and mysticism, this poem is Catholic in tone. Also contrary to his
practice, Yeats uses an Irish word in the poem – ‘mavrone’ which in
Irish is ‘mobhron’, a cry of grief.
Not only does the poem address the poverty of rural Ireland in the
poem but also the extreme religiosity of the village people of
Ireland. That Father Gilligan could not make it to the bedside of the
dying man before he died and that no priest performed the rites of
extreme unction i.e. that the man did not die in a state of grace,
would close the door of heaven to him. The element of Catholic
tradition is obvious here and the divine intercession to make it
otherwise is an assertion of a loving, kind God.
This particular ballad of Yeats seems to be a homage to the
traditional poetry and legend of his country. It is said that the poet
was attracted by the immediate, naïve beauty of similar Irish stories
and songs that he went on collecting through out his mature years
gaining fresh insights as he passionately studied them. There is no
doubt that this dramatic narrative poem draws upon the character and
the form of the traditional Irish ballad.
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Posted by English Teacher at 6:30 PM