A Prayer for My Daughter

A Prayer for My Daughter

by William Butler Yeats

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-leveling wind.
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-legged smith for man.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

Literary Analysis

“A Prayer for My Daughter” is a reflection of the poet’s love for his daughter. It is also about surviving the turmoil of the contemporary world, where passions have been separated from reason. The setting of the poem is unspecified. The speaker is the poet himself talking to his daughter. The tone is gloomy, precarious, and frightening, as well as didactic.

The poem opens with a description of the speaker praying for his innocent infant daughter, Anne, lying in the middle of a stormhowling, and half hid.” The poet demonstrates his feelings through the use of symbols of weather. The newborn baby girl is sleeping “Under this cradle-hood and coverlid,” implying the innocence and vulnerability of Anne. Though the external world is violent, she is protected from it. The storm is a metaphor for the Irish people’s struggle for their independence, which was an uncertain political situation in Yeats’s day. He further presents the situation of the storm with “roof-leveling wind”, representing turbulence, in the midst of which the poet has walked and prayed for this young child an hour.” Intense and threatening forces surround her like a “flooded stream.” The poet symbolizes the sea thus: “Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.” Despite his apprehensions for his child in this turbulent world, he is hopeful for her.

The poet continues on to comment on his hopes for her beauty:May she be granted beauty and yet not.” His vacillation is that beauty in women sometimes brings disasters. For example, some such people have a difficult time choosing the right person as a life partner, and neither they can find a friend.” The speaker lays emphasis on the need for feminine innocence. The poet advances his argument in the next stanzas by citing examples of beautiful women such as Helen of Troy, whose beauty was said to be the cause of the Trojan War. By the end, the poet wants his daughter to be courteous, as love cannot come unconditionally and freely. She must earn love with good efforts and kind-heartedness, and she cannot win it by merely physical beauty because “Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned.” Summing up his theme, the poet wishes his daughter to possess such qualities that could help her face the future years confidently and independently.

Structural Analysis

The poem is written in a lyric form containing ten stanzas with eight lines in each stanza. The poem follows a regular rhyme scheme, which is AABBCDDC as shown below:

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour  A
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,          A
And-under the arches of the bridge, and scream          B
In the elms above the flooded stream;                         B
Imagining in excited reverie                                        C
That the future years had come,                                  D
Dancing to a frenzied drum,                                        D
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.                C

The meter of this poem alternates between iambic pentameter and trochaic pentameter, as inI have walked and prayed for this young child an hour / And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower.” The poem is rich in literary devices such as symbolism, personification, paradox, sibilance, assonance, alliteration, and onomatopoeia. The line murderous innocence of the sea” is an example of paradox. Sibilance is found in the words “sea-wind scream,” while “scream” is also an example of an onomatopoeia. The use of personification can be noted in the lines “future years … dancing”, which implies the transience of life. The poet uses symbols such as “sea wind” and “flooded stream” which denote turbulent forces at work. Alliteration is present in the phrasebe granted beauty.”

Guidance for Usage of Quotes

The poem is concerned with the chaotic modern world. It shows a father consumed with apprehension for his daughter’s future in an uncertain political situation. The father is tense about how he can possibly protect his daughter from the raging storm outside, because she is very beautiful. Therefore, he prays for her as well as gives advice about how to live successfully on earth. Similarly, modern-day fathers can send quotes from this poem to their daughters as a piece of advice for special occasions:

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.”

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