Title of Project

A Dream of Flying, a Dream of Death

Researcher Information

Daniel King

Project Type


Start Date

2010 12:00 AM

End Date

2010 12:00 AM

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Jan 1st, 12:00 AM Jan 1st, 12:00 AM

A Dream of Flying, a Dream of Death

In my analysis of W.B. Yeats's 1919 poem An Irish Airman Foresees His Death I find a pure expression of the "Death Instinct" postulated by Sigmund Freud in his 1920 book Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Both works had been inspired by the recent calamity of World War One. Indeed, the trauma Freud witnessed in veterans of the war drove him to question the assumption on which he had based his entire career: that all human psychology derived from a single pleasure-seeking, libido-fueled "Life Instinct,' Freud theorized that there also existed a "Death Instinct" which operated in opposition to the "Life Instinct." There exists no better explanation for the nameless Irish Airman's whimsical discarding of his own life than this mysterious drive. Though most scholars accept that Yeats's direct inspiration for the poem came from the death of his friend Major Robert Gregory, the connection is revealed to be superficial upon a close reading of the poem. The Irish Airman is a solemn figure who after careful consideration chooses to follow a "lonely impulse of delight" which he knows will lead to his death. Every rational justification for his suicidal decision is ruled out, one by one, in the lines of the poem. Ultimately, the Irish Airman seems to be acting solely out of a deep, destructive instinct that overrides his will to live.