“Among School Children” is a poem used by Yeats to determine an upcoming generation with the underlying concept that no possible life can be fulfilled. The philosophy controlling this work suggests that perhaps life ‘prepares us for what never happens’. Consistent with Yeatsean philosophy, it follows the dogma which states that wistlessness brings about innocence, whereas knowledge brings us ballyhoo. Within the realms of acquired wisdom, consciousness produces an anarchic state within the individual, causing conflict to be the degradation of the soul and mind. Understanding these forms of consciousness, inscape and instress, as Tenyson has termed them, causes a heightened awareness towards understanding the human spirit and the universe. According to Yeats, this understanding creates confusion and consciousness becomes conflict.
Consciousness is limited to the realms of experience. Within this experience we may understand individualities of love, death, beauty and spiritual essence. Consciousness is the awareness of one’s surroundings and identity; the awareness of universal concepts and the relation this plays upon the individual. Yeats believed that throughout an individuals life there were certain icons and memories which remained constant, turning in what he classified as a gyre, an ever increasing spiral of life veering towards a state of anarchy. This form of consciousness is classified within Western cosmologies as knowledge or wisdom. If one chooses to neglect this knowledge, one has not been enlightened and therefor remains much like the school children Yeats views in the poem. If one grasps these memories within the eternal wheel one is considered a knowledgeable man. He has an understanding of his own relativity within the realms of spirituality held between himself and others, as if his subconscious has been awakened and now lies within his own consciousness. He has reached a new plateau of consciousness and therefor becomes susceptible to both his own and the relativity of other individuals relativity. This may be considered as a form of enlightenment. The question which is aroused by this topic is whether this awareness of consciousness and enlightenment is beneficial. Yeats believed that within the enlightened individual there remains an anarchic state; confusion, which leads to conflict. It is apparent that among the school children there is an air of beauty which surrounds them. This beauty which Yeats views is derived from their innocence. It would seem that innocence is freedom to follow the divine will. It is the natural order and within the child’s mind a unknown parallel held between each individual is present. Innocence becomes beauty and consciousness becomes mere confusion.
Yeats is constantly using forms of innocence which may be considered the opposing factor to forms of consciousness. If consciousness is understanding in a universal sense, then innocence would be unable to interpret this wisdom. He displays the children, a mother, a nun and his wife throughout the piece, using them as monuments of innocence and in some senses, heavenly glory and beauty. These images of innocence give us intense pictures of purity and are representative of moral order.
Yeats begins his piece in the classroom. As he walks through the pairs of puzzled young faces he is told by their teacher that they learn to read, sing and sew. These common classroom activities are what we are taught. They are “neat in everything / in the best modern way”(ln5/6), and in relation to his final two lines in the piece, this is one of the only ways in which we know how to dance. These teachings have been passed down by generations in hope of increasing our knowledge into an eternal state of bliss and beauty. Another philosophical concept is aroused here. What constitutes eternal bliss? Is it knowledge and reason, or innocence and wistlessness? Indeed, within Yeat’s prospective standpoint, it is the latter. As he tours the classroom with his eyes he sees beauty in these children who view life simplistically. This cosmology is consistent with “A Prayer for My Daughter”, where ‘arrogance and hatred'(ln25) become the articles for humanities vending store of consciousness and the two forms of ‘ignorance’, innocence and beauty are vanquished. The tree which becomes symbolic towards the transgression of innocence at the end of this prayer is indeed another play on the eternal gyres of life. The linnet will never be shaken from the tree if the mind does not turn sour: ‘If there’s no hatred in a mind'(ln54). Therefor Evil brought about by consciousness becomes the degradation of the enlightened mind, a never ending thirst which ‘dries up'(ln51) the mind. Innocence is ignorant of evil and is a lack of confusion. Therefor, innocence retains a natural order which is the bliss seen in the classroom.
In the second stanza, Yeats dreams of the image of his lover who becomes a theme of innocence he may relate to throughout his life. The image he produces is a fresco of beauty above evil. The ledaean body bent over the inferno of hell, ‘a sinking fire'(ln10) is a complex painting of order giving way to disorder, where a ‘childish day’ turns into ‘tragedy'(ln12). Innocence is turned towards consciousness, leading to destruction.
Yeats continues by denying Plato’s theory, which states that man is half woman and once unified with his missing half, a unified whole is created. Yeats believed that their universal bonding was derived from innocence. It seems ironic that Yeats can reject Plato’s theorem and is a demonstrative example of two great minds are centuries apart in views of universal consciousness. Yeats looks upon each child in the classroom and thinks of his wife, comparing her to each child’s tender frame of innocence and beauty. He then turns his thoughts towards her present image, which is frail and weak. Although not radiant, she still retains an aura of beauty within her innocence.
After analysation of his aging self and the maturity and consciousness of both soul and mind, he brings us the image of a newly born child, where we find the form of a mother cradling her infant. The beauty is the child has been brought into the world by the activity which the ‘Honey of generation had betrayed'(ln34). According to Porphyr, a Neoplatonic philosopher, it is the ‘souls passage from the blissful state of eternity into the prison of time’. Yeats disagrees and believes that freedom is granted to the individual once he has entered the world. Similar to his denial of Plato’s theory, one views conflict between to conscious minds. The image of the mother and child is the complete picture of both innocence and beauty. The undetermined pain of childbirth, ‘the pang of his birth'(ln39), becomes beautiful as the act is unconscious and one of complete innocence. In the seventh verse, the image of the mother becomes prevalent again. Yeats compares the mother to a nun worshipping images. She keeps aspirations in the back of her mind which is her ‘spiritual repose'(ln52).
In the latter two verses, Yeats captures this spiritual repose in a universal and divine sense. He determines heavenly glory to be ‘passion, piety and affection’. This is the dance he refers to in the final line. It is the dance of the divine which demonstrates all natural order. The symbolism of heaven seen within the individual may be understood as innocent and unconscious, whereas the ‘the self-born makers of man’s enterprise'(ln56) become the conscious individual. He continues by declaring labour to be part of this divine dance, where pleasure of the soul becomes greater than pleasure of the body. He gives us the example of birth once again, where beauty is not born out of despair of its own lack. Essentially, this innocence is the beauty and the dance which God wishes us to follow. Wisdom becomes bleary, much like peering through ‘midnight oil'(ln60), and confusion has been loosed through knowledge.
With wisdom creating bleary vision, Yeats concludes that we have no way of knowing the ‘dancer from the dance'(ln64). We have no capacity for understanding how to fulfill this dance as it cannot even be determined by the conscious individual. The dance may only be completed by what Carl Jung has termed ‘the collective unconscious’. If one’s consciousness has reached a new parallel in the continual turning gyre, one’s awareness may be considered one thread closer towards confusion and anarchy. Each step taken into further consciousness may be considered a step in the direction towards confusion as the gyre is turning away from innocence. Conflict will be the resultant.