’s “Long Legged Fly” Essay, Research Paper
The Symbolism of ?Long Legged Fly?
An analysis of Yeats? poetry
In his poem ?Long Legged Fly?, William Butler Yeats, examines the
notion of human genius, and its many aspects. The apparent theme that Yeats
attempts to show is that peacefulness is required in order for one to utilize
their genius ability. The title itself, ?Long Legged Fly?, has a symbolic
meaning. It is a metaphor for a tranquil and clear state of mind, which is a
key ingredient to enhance genius. The people who posses this ability have a
power that extends above and beyond the ordinary. They appear to hover in
a separate world of their own in the same way that the fly glides effortlessly
over water. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each presents a
different example of human genius from history and contrasts the similarities
and differences between them.
The first stanza talks about Julius Caesar, a great political and military
genius of who was responsible for the expansion of the early Roman empire.
However, in his poem Yeats does not focus on Caesar as a warrior, instead
he introduces him as a thinker, one who?s tactical skills are not derived from
his actions but from his own careful thought and intellect as ?his mind is fixed
upon nothing, a hand under his head.? Most importantly Yeats introduces the
need for silence in order for a great thinker to achieve full potential for his
wisdom. Here he stresses to the reader to ?quiet the dog, tether the pony to a
distant post? because these noisy disturbances may interfere with Caesars
genius ability, for ?like a long legged fly upon the stream, his mind moves
The second stanza deals with Helen of Troy, whose genius transcends
from her own mystical beauty which resulted in her capture by the Trojan
prince Paris, marking the beginning of the Trojan war. The first line of this
stanza, ?that the topless towers be burnt?, represents the downfall of Troy at
the end of the war when Helen was finally freed and reunited with her
husband King Menelaus of Sparta. Helen?s genius, although different from
that of Caesars, is again motivated by peace and silence, without which she
would not be capable of exhibiting her remarkable gift of beauty and poise. It
is with this aspect that Yeats commands ?move most gently if you must?,
signifying the importance of a calm and tranquil environment for her state of
mind. Yeats concludes this stanza with the same line stated earlier, ?like a
long legged fly upon the stream his mind moves upon silence.?
The third an final stanza describes yet another kind of genius, that of
the famous artist Michaelangelo who painted the Sistine Chapel. Yeats
describes Michaelangelo as having an almost supernatural ability from which
he is inspired by visions which enable him to create his magnificent painting.
Similarly, as in the previous two stanzas, Yeats again expresses the need for
peace. This is pointed out when he orders to ?shut the door of the
Pope?s chapel, keep those children out.? The children must me removed
because they present a distraction to Michalangelo completing his work.
The obvious theme that is emphasized throughout the poem is the need
for peace and tranquillity of mind. This seems to be Yeats? central idea to
developing genius. Each of the three stanzas provide an example of how
human genius has shaped history and how the ways in which they work have
the potential to shape the future.