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"Lapis Lazuli" -
The poem was published in 1938, when Britain and much of Europe began to prepare for what seemed an inevitable war.
The poem features a great deal of symbolism, which Yeats was particularly renowned for incorporating into many of his poems. The symbolism in the poem serves to highlight the central theme of destruction and rebuilding.
Art is a motif which is prominent throughout the poem and this supports the overall theme. Yeats tries to put forward the idea that art maintains the subsistence of the world. The speaker in the poem believed that the world is dependent on art to preserve the cycle of creation and destruction. Art essentially can take away as well as build.
Lapis Lazuli is in the first person narrative, using presumably the poets own voice. For much of the poem, the rhyming scheme is ABAB however this does not stay constant and at some points there is no rhyme at all eg: start of last paragraph
The poem is summarised by the phrase, “ Finding tranquillity in chaos”
Analysis of Title
The first symbol of the poem is the title and what it stands for. A Lapis Lazuli is known to be one of the oldest precious stones left in the world. It is a deep blue colour and is used often for spiritual healing.
The image that the stone creates is one of permanence in that something so precious has survived for such a long period of time. The stone is symbolic of the United Kingdom in general. It suggests that the UK itself is precious and will not disappear even when faced with the destruction and carnage of the Second World War.
Furthers the theme of the power of Art. Britain is portrayed as a work of art and so can be manipulated. Art is immortal and so the Poet connotes that Britain will live on forever even through adversity.
Analysis of Stanza 1
The first stanza sets up immediately the theme of tranquillity amongst destruction and art. The symbolism used by Yeats comes this time in the form of ‘Hysterical Women”. The women are enraged by artists, who they believe are ignoring the imminent War, and the death and destruction it will bring. They make reference to poets, musicians and poets; all of who are creators of ‘art’.
“Pitch like King Billy-bomb balls”
The use of alliteration in the sentence serves to emphasize its meaning. The line is a clear reference to an anonymous Ballad which was published in the Irish Ministry.
This is an insult to the Irish Unionists in terms of their fight for independence from England. It suggests only death and destruction will come of their War. The alliteration emphasizes the metaphor that the ‘Hysterical Women’ believe that only carnage will ensue after the World War.
The women are symbols of lost hope. Those that believe that the War will lead to the obliteration of the United Kingdom and the end of life as we know it. They do not see the purpose of beautiful art when the time demands for more ‘serious’ actions.
They no longer appreciate Art and the joys it brings in times of chaos. What they fail to realise is art has the lasting effect of transforming a tragic situation such as the War into something more meaningful. For example a means to begin again and return beauty back to the World. The cycle of destruction and creation is paramount here. The womens’ view is one sided as they are blinded by the fear of ‘aeroplane and zeppelin’ and cannot see the wider picture of opportunity. Art in essence is timeless and will never be destroyed.
Stanza 2 Analysis
Stanza two begins with another symbol, this time Yeats presents characters from English Literature as they are being depicted on stage.
”There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
That's Ophelia, that Cordelia;
yet they, should the last scene be there,
the great stage curtain about to drop,
If worthy their prominent part in the play,
Do not break up their lines to weep.”
All these characters each encounter tragic endings. For example at the end of ‘King Lear’, Lear is left holding the dead body of Cordelia, before eventually dying himself. However the actors portraying such characters do not interrupt the play to grieve over the tragedy; instead they continue valiantly to the end.
The strength of the actors is a quality Yeats believes that we should all posses. The “Great Stage Curtain” has connotations of the War which is facing mankind. Yet the actors don’t look upset at the thought of the tragedy beholding their character and this is how Yeats feels we should act in times of destruction.
They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;
Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.
“Gay” makes reference to the first stanza where the word was used to describe the Art which the ‘Hysterical Women’ were angered by.
If we assume ‘Gay’ represents art, it is easier to recognise the theme of the power of art. Hamlet and Lear have been created by an artist and so can be manipulated by him into experiencing different emotions. The characters are strong in such troubled times and these emotions are developed by the artist, thus emphasizing the significance of art during chaos.
“Upon a hundred thousand stages
It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce”
“It” has connotations of tragedy. The poet uses the word in the context of a ‘Hundred thousand’ stage performances and claims that no matter how much tragedy is performed, the pain cannot be made any worse by continued enactments.
Yeats suggests that even though tragedy is bad, it is the way we react to it which determines the effect it has on us. If like the ‘Hysterical Women’ we live in terror of what might be then the War will affect them badly and destroy all they hold dear.
However if the county chooses to act like the English Characters and display the dignity and valance needed in such times, then the impact on those people will no be as severe; as they are not scared of their future.
The purpose if of developing the symbols in stanza 2 is to show to the people of the United Kingdom that being depressed about ones fate is hopeless and will only lead to unhappiness. Yet following the example set out by artists and the Literary Character will always lead to inevitable happiness.
Our time in the world is limited and so why waste it worrying about what may happen. Instead we should learn to appreciate art and the joy it brings to our lives.
“………..or on shipboard,'
Camel-back; horse-back, ass-back, mule-back,
Old civilisations put to the sword.
Then they and their wisdom went to rack:
No handiwork of Callimachus,”
In the second stanza, Yeats introduces his idea of the cycle of destruction- creation. Yeats first uses a list to emphasise the developments in transport methods from simply walking to horse back travel.
“Old civilisations put to the sword” This is quite a depressing thought as it suggests that every civilisation will eventually face destructions eg: Chinese Empire, Roman Empire. Nothing it seems is permanent and what we cherish on earth will always disappear eventually.
“Went to rack” With the destruction of these empires comes the loss of their great knowledge. It is sad to think that the knowledge of such wonders dissipates into nothing once the civilisation they belong to is gone. Even the art of ancient Greek poet Callimachus is venerable to the test of time. Yeats uses these examples to convey one half of the cycle of destruction and creation.
“All things fall and are built again,
All those that build them again are gay”
Yeats introduces the next half of his idea. Those things which are lost and destroyed by war are always restored again to their former glory.
Yeats believes it is art, which rebuilds civilisations. The word “gay” is used again to symbolise art and its power to change peoples’ lives. We can look at the work of Callimachus and believe that it is confined to the grave with the Ancient Greek civilisation. However these treasures are never lost because art is immortal and can survive time. Callimachus work is passed down from generation to generation maybe not through his actual text but through word of mouth and so his legend never dies.
The art of story telling keeps history alive and allows us to rebuild our world. Many poets in the past have been influenced by Callimachus and so it is not correct to say his work is dead. It lives on in the art we see today, thus emphasising the permanence of art.
Final Stanzas Analysis
The final stanzas re-introduce us to the Lapis Lazuli. The stanza depicts three Chinese men carved into a Lapis Lazuli rock. This is a reference to the gift Yeats received from Harry Clifton, whom which the poem is dedicated to.
The three men symbolise the growth and strength of China in the lead up to the War. China suffered badly at the hands of the Japanese and suffered such atrocities as the Rape of Nanjing. Yet China still stayed dignified in the face of such evil and destruction, not wavering in its defiance against tyranny. “A symbol of longevity” emphasizes the theme of art immortality. Man has the ability to live a happy and long life if he appreciates art and its beauties.
“Every discoloration of the stone,
Every accidental crack or dent,
seems a water course or an avalanche.”
The imperfections of the rock symbolise the destruction which grips mankind. The pain and suffering is reflected in the rock and its defects after so many years in existence.
However the rock is still alive and each dent and crack only serves to enhance its overall beauty. It is a piece of art which has stood the test of time and instead of detracting from its beauty, time only adds more beauty to the rock. War may cause destruction and pain however what is left is something so magnificent.
Not only is it a symbol of strength but a symbol of hope. The beauty of the rock has the power to evoke emotions within. Civilisations may fall and be rebuilt again yet the rock, and the art it represents, will always be there, ready to create joy and happiness within those who have the time to appreciate it.
“Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.”
The “Tragic scene” they stare upon is representative of the destruction of war and its effect on people. The civilians that the Chinamen stare upon are fearful of the devastation that will engulf their country. They worry about politics and the actions it will take to prevent an inevitable war. These people will ignore art and dismiss it as trivial in a time of such tension.
The Chinamen are perched high in a mountain and look almost sullenly at those who have refused art. They say that the time demands depressing and solemn music yet the old men begin to play joyful music and their eyes are ‘gay’. The word is the final one of the poem and it is fitting that the poet ends on this note. We have deduced that “gay” is representative of art and by claiming that their eyes are ‘gay’ I can understand that the old men have art almost inside of them. They are symbols of art and the hope it can bring to people who are desolate
Yeats symbols in Lapis Lazuli emphasize how important it is for us to face tragedy with dignity and strength. We must never net tragedy consume us and take over our lives. Art is a way of transcending joy in a time of loss and help to heal pain. The beauty of the Lapis Lazuli and art in general is far more powerful than pain. By abandoning art like the ‘Hysterical women’ we are essentially giving up hope of recovery and confining ourselves to a life of dread and unhappiness. We all only have a short period of time in this world so why should we waste time wallowing in pasts losses when we can embrace the beauty of Art and look forward to the future with an open mind.
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