William Butler Yeats’ A Prayer for My Daughter is a reflection of the poet’s love for his daughter. It is also about surviving the turmoil of the contemporary world, where passions have been separated from reason. The setting of the poem is unspecified. The speaker is the poet himself talking to his daughter. The tone is gloomy, precarious, and frightening, as well as didactic.
The poem opens with a description of the speaker praying for his innocent infant daughter, Anne, lying in the middle of a storm “howling, and half hid.” The poet demonstrates his feelings through the use of symbols of weather. The newborn baby girl is sleeping “Under this cradle-hood and coverlid,” implying the innocence and vulnerability of Anne. Though the external world is violent, she is protected from it. The storm is a metaphor for the Irish people’s struggle for their independence, which was an uncertain political situation in Yeats’s day. He further presents the situation of the storm with “roof-leveling wind”, representing turbulence, in the midst of which the poet has “walked and prayed for this young child an hour.” Intense and threatening forces surround her like a “flooded stream.” The poet symbolizes the sea thus: “Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.” Despite his apprehensions for his child in this turbulent world, he is hopeful for her.
The poet continues on to comment on his hopes for her beauty:“May she be granted beauty and yet not.” His vacillation is that beauty in women sometimes brings disasters. For example, some such people have a difficult time choosing the right person as a life partner, and neither they can “find a friend.” The speaker lays emphasis on the need for feminine innocence. The poet advances his argument in the next stanzas by citing examples of beautiful women such as Helen of Troy, whose beauty was said to be the cause of the Trojan War. By the end, the poet wants his daughter to be courteous, as love cannot come unconditionally and freely. She must earn love with good efforts and kind-heartedness, and she cannot win it by merely physical beauty because “Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned.” Summing up his theme, the poet wishes his daughter to possess such qualities that could help her face the future years confidently and independently.