Poetry Friday: The “Tumult in the Clouds” WB Yeats

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.

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
W. B. Yeats1865 – 1939
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.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week (7/18/14) at Tabatha Yeatts: The Opposite of Indifference
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6 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: The “Tumult in the Clouds” WB Yeats

    • Thanks, Tabatha.
      I am so stealing your “thing with feathers” idea. I do not do enough Emily D. and I was commenting on this with Catherine Flynn (Reading to the Core blog). Dickinson’s poems are like wound up packages that explode when opened….poetry monsters indeed! (the good kind…)

  1. As I read Yeats’ poem, I channeled my father, the crop duster turned John Deere parts man (needed a safer job once the family came along), who never lost his longing for the joys of flight. His favorite flying poem was “High Flight” by John Magee. Might make an interesting pairing with this one.

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