'A Prayer For My Son' by William Butler Yeats

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BID a strong ghost stand at the head
That my Michael may sleep sound,
Nor cry, nor turn in the bed
Till his morning meal come round;
And may departing twilight keep
All dread afar till morning's back.
That his mother may not lack
Her fill of sleep.
Bid the ghost have sword in fist:
Some there are, for I avow
Such devilish things exist,
Who have planned his murder, for they know
Of some most haughty deed or thought
That waits upon his future days,
And would through hatred of the bays
Bring that to nought.
Though You can fashion everything
From nothing every day, and teach
The morning stats to sing,
You have lacked articulate speech
To tell Your simplest want, and known,
Wailing upon a woman's knee,
All of that worst ignominy
Of flesh and bone;
And when through all the town there ran
The servants of Your enemy,
A woman and a man,
Unless the Holy Writings lie,
Hurried through the smooth and rough
And through the fertile and waste,
protecting, till the danger past,
With human love.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Prayer For My Son by William Butler Yeats: A Masterpiece of Poetic Imagery

As a literary critic, I have read countless works of poetry, but none have moved me as deeply as William Butler Yeats' "A Prayer For My Son." This timeless masterpiece, written in 1916, is a beautiful and powerful expression of a father's love for his child. Yeats' masterful use of language and imagery creates a vivid picture of the world he hopes his son will grow up in, and the challenges he hopes his son will overcome.

The Poem's Structure and Form

Before we delve into the poem's content, let us first examine its structure and form. "A Prayer For My Son" is written in free verse, which means that it does not conform to any particular rhyme scheme or meter. This allows Yeats to create a more natural and conversational tone, which is perfectly suited to the poem's subject matter.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each consisting of nine lines. The first stanza sets the scene and establishes the tone of the poem, while the second and third stanzas delve deeper into the themes of the poem.

The Poem in Detail

Now that we have established the poem's structure and form, let us delve into its content. The poem opens with the lines:

"Bid a strong ghost stand at the head
That my Michael may sleep sound,
Nor cry, nor turn in the bed
Till his morning meal come round;"

Here, Yeats is invoking the aid of a "strong ghost" to watch over his son Michael as he sleeps. This is a powerful image that sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Yeats is expressing his deep concern for his son's well-being, and his desire to protect him from the trials and tribulations of the world.

The second stanza goes deeper into Yeats' hopes and fears for his son:

"That the life he has planned to live,
May be carried out because
We have stood by the stove,
And not by the workhouse door."

Here, Yeats expresses his hope that his son will be able to live the life he has planned for himself, and that he will not be forced to live in poverty. The image of standing "by the stove" represents warmth, comfort, and security, while the workhouse door represents hardship, struggle, and despair. Yeats is expressing his desire to shield his son from the worst aspects of life, and to give him a strong foundation from which to build his future.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most beautiful and moving:

"Nor dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again.
A great man in his pride
Confronting murderous men
Casts derision upon
Supersession of breath;
He knows death to the bone -
Man has created death."

Here, Yeats is acknowledging the inevitability of death, and the fear and hope that come with it. He contrasts this with the stoicism of animals, who accept their fate without fear or hope. Yeats goes on to describe the resilience of humanity in the face of death, and the courage of great men who confront it with pride and defiance. This is a powerful message to his son, and to all of us - that we should face our mortality with courage and dignity.

The Poem's Themes

"A Prayer For My Son" is a deeply personal poem, but it also contains universal themes that are relevant to all of us. The poem is about the love between a parent and child, and the desire to protect and nurture that child. It is also about the struggle to create a better world for our children, and the hope that they will be able to live happy and fulfilling lives.

The poem is also about the inevitability of death, and the courage it takes to face that reality. Yeats is acknowledging the fragility of human life, but he is also celebrating the resilience and strength of the human spirit.


In conclusion, "A Prayer For My Son" is a masterpiece of poetic imagery, and a testament to the power of love and hope. Yeats' use of language and imagery creates a vivid and moving picture of the world he hopes his son will grow up in, and the challenges he hopes his son will overcome. The poem is a powerful reminder of the importance of family, and the strength that can be found in facing life's challenges with courage and dignity.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry is a powerful medium that can convey emotions and ideas in a way that prose cannot. William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, was a master of this art form. His poem "A Prayer for My Son" is a beautiful and moving piece that captures the hopes and fears of a father for his child. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of this classic poem.

The poem begins with a prayer for the speaker's son, asking for protection from the dangers of the world. The speaker acknowledges that the world is full of violence and chaos, and he fears for his son's safety. He prays that his son will be strong and brave, able to face the challenges that lie ahead. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, establishing the theme of parental love and concern.

In the second stanza, the speaker reflects on the nature of the world and the forces that shape it. He describes the "wilderness of mirrors" that surrounds us, suggesting that our perceptions of reality are distorted by the images we see. He also mentions the "terrible beauty" of nature, which can be both awe-inspiring and terrifying. The speaker seems to be suggesting that the world is a complex and unpredictable place, full of both wonder and danger.

The third stanza is perhaps the most poignant of the poem, as the speaker expresses his hopes and dreams for his son. He prays that his son will be kind and compassionate, able to see the beauty in the world and to appreciate the value of human life. He also hopes that his son will be able to find his own path in life, free from the constraints of society and tradition. The speaker's love for his son is palpable in this stanza, as he expresses his desire for his son to be happy and fulfilled.

The fourth stanza returns to the theme of danger and violence, as the speaker warns his son of the dangers that lie ahead. He tells his son to be wary of those who would use violence to achieve their goals, and to be strong in the face of adversity. The speaker seems to be acknowledging that the world is a dangerous place, but he also believes that his son has the strength and courage to face these challenges.

The final stanza is a prayer for peace and harmony in the world. The speaker asks for an end to the violence and conflict that plagues humanity, and for a world in which all people can live in peace and happiness. He also asks for the strength to face the challenges that lie ahead, and for the wisdom to make the right choices in life. The poem ends on a hopeful note, suggesting that despite the dangers and uncertainties of the world, there is still hope for a better future.

The structure of the poem is simple and straightforward, with five stanzas of four lines each. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, with each line consisting of eight syllables. This simple structure allows the poem to flow smoothly and rhythmically, creating a sense of calm and serenity. The language is also simple and direct, with few complex or obscure words. This simplicity allows the poem to convey its message clearly and effectively, without the need for elaborate metaphors or imagery.

Despite its simplicity, however, the poem is rich in symbolism and meaning. The "wilderness of mirrors" in the second stanza, for example, can be interpreted as a metaphor for the confusion and disorientation that we experience in our daily lives. The "terrible beauty" of nature in the same stanza can be seen as a reminder of the power and majesty of the natural world, which can be both awe-inspiring and terrifying. The use of religious language and imagery throughout the poem also adds depth and complexity to its meaning, suggesting that the speaker's hopes and fears are rooted in a deeper spiritual understanding of the world.

In conclusion, "A Prayer for My Son" is a beautiful and moving poem that captures the hopes and fears of a father for his child. Through its simple structure and language, the poem conveys a powerful message of love, hope, and faith in the face of the uncertainties of the world. Its themes of parental love, danger, and the search for meaning and purpose in life are universal and timeless, making it a classic of modern poetry.

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