James Pethica


"Easter, 1916," the best-known literary work responding to the Irish Rising of 24-30 April 1916, includes the date "September 25th, 1916" at the foot of the text in all canonical printings—this being the first time Yeats permanently so identified a poem's completion to a specific day.1 When writing a new poem, he would frequently mention this in letters to friends, and often sent partial or even full working drafts to his closest confidantes. But in this instance, after telling John Quinn and Lady Gregory in May 1916 of his plans to write about “the men executed,” his letters are notably silent on the subject over the following four months; and, additionally, no early drafts of “Easter, 1916” survive.2 Yeats read a version of the poem to Maud Gonne in Normandy in late August 1916, but the first surviving manuscript is a full draft, with substantive revisions only to the final stanza, and dated September 25—on which day he was at Coole Park with Lady Gregory.3 As this essay will show, that dating was not accidental and quietly acknowledges Gregory’s significant share in the poem’s birth.