Added 10 August 1999, Revised 18 July 2005
We sat together at one summer's end, |
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'
. . . . . . . . . And thereupon
I said, 'It's certain there is no fine thing
We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
In this poem, Yeats is basically saying that producing something beautiful is not easy. Yet, the modern world of Yeats with its emphasis on financial success and advancement believes art and beauty to be easy and natural. Merchants and businessmen look down on poets and painters as slackers. But poets and painters think as much or more than anyone else. Beauty has the curse of looking easy. That is, I suppose, part of the beauty of beauty. If an artists tries to force the hand of beauty, he or she might as well give up, for beauty cannot be coerced, it can only be brought out. The bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen have no concept (to Yeats) of the true nature of beauty, so they chide artists, when it is they, in fact, that spend their time on meaningless tasks.
In the third stanza, Yeats seems to be saying that merely reciting love poems is not beauty in itself. The beauty is in the true feeling of the words. Reciting the words with sigh and quote is merely love by rote.
In the last stanza, Yeats ponders the woman in the poem (whom I used to think was Lady Gregory, but instead was Maud Gonne), and his feelings towards her. He had worked at love and had not succeeded. He could not achieve that beauty, and felt as tired for the effort as the ever-moving moon circling endlessly in the sky.
The following interpretation is by Ben:
You [Brian Jones] write[s] "In the third stanza, Yeats seems to be saying that merely reciting love poems is not beauty in itself. The beauty is in the true feeling of the words. Reciting the words with sigh and quote is merely love by rote.
In the last stanza, Yeats ponders the woman in the poem (whom I *believe* to be Lady Gregory), and his feelings towards her. He had worked at love and had not succeeded. He could not achieve that beauty, and felt as tired for the effort as the ever-moving moon circling endlessly in the sky."
I think the poems ending is essentially redemptive - although the tone is one of sadness, yeats finds beauty in the final lines of poetry - the symbol ultimately, tired as it is, is hauntingly evocative, and the "old high way of love" looks, if nothing else, like the food of poetry. There is a sprezzatura that makes the opening of the poem seem heavily ironic.
I could be wrong; would be interested to hear your thoughts
The following interpretation is by Kit Haggard:
Adam's Curse, by Yeats, has been one of those constant poems in my life that I return to again and again--it's a favorite of my mother's and I've heard it read a dozen times.
Your interpretation of the poem was very interesting, I think. The verse where I find fault is "I said, 'It's certain there is no fine thing...idle trade enough.'" Both interpretations on your website have this as a verse criticising the lovers who quote with learned looks. I think it's the opposite. Yeats finishes the stanza by saying that now, love has become an idle trade, and the whole poem is about working for the beautiful things in life--poetry and the beauty of a woman. He says, I believe, that lovers used to quote poetry and woo in the traditional sense of the word and now, love has become an idle trade. Men and woman fall in and out of love without all the traditional machinations--poetry and flowers and such. I think he's suggesting that love has become too easy.
And I'm inclined to agree with Ben on the meaning of the final verse. Yeats is trying to love this woman in the most noble way he can--"in the old high way of love"--but it is both of them he's referring to when he says "we have grown as weary-hearted as that hollow moon." The poem is about labor and working towards beauty--and the couple, Yeats and this woman, have grown tired of trying to make this relationship beautiful. That's what I believe.
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