Thunderstorms this summer have been exceptionally violent. High humidity has contributed to large clouds roiling with different shades of grey-black mixed with a sickly green. During one storm this week, I visualized the a line from W.B. Yeats An Irish Airman Foresees His Death-” drove to this tumult in the clouds” as the thunder cracked around me.
A summer thunderstorm echoes like the sound of a aerial dogfight, something the young Irish Airman in the poem might have experienced in the First World War. The poem is not about a dogfight, however, and the poem is not limited to WWI either.
I know that I shall meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above; Those that I fight I do not hate Those that I guard I do not love; My country is Kiltartan Cross, My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor, No likely end could bring them loss Or leave them happier than before. Nor law, nor duty bade me fight, Nor public man, nor cheering crowds, A lonely impulse of delight Drove to this tumult in the clouds; I balanced all, brought all to mind, The years to come seemed waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind In balance with this life, this death.
When I teach the poem to the English II class, there is always one student who picks out the real reason the Irish Airman is flying a plane. That student understands “the lonely impulse of delight” of a young man who would take enlist in war simply to fly an airplane.
“He’s got a need for speed,” the student will say.
“That’s it,” I will agree.
Yeat’s lead-footed youth, flying “somewhere among the clouds above,” shares a reckless abandon with many of my students. They do not read the poem as tragic, but read this as an explanation of a choice: “He craves excitement!”
The sounds of a summer thunderstorm generates a very different kind of excitement altogether, but the tumult looks the same.