My favourite Yeats poem


I bet he was in one of his mystic trances when they took this photo.

It’s been a while since I’ve touched any W.B. Yeats. But in light of my return to school for a Humanities Programme reunion of sorts next Wednesday, I’ve decided to revisit him on my blog. He’s not my favourite poet by any means (I’ve pledged all my heartbreak to Carol Ann Duffy and intend to search down all her anthologies while I’m in New York), but every time I write a poem I remember what Yeats has written in Adam’s Curse:

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.

Since the first time we went through this poem in class, I’ve always remembered this line. In fact, I’ve even toyed with the idea of writing a poem about writing a poem (and it’s associated difficulties), but I’ve always conceded that Yeats has done it better than I ever will.

I’ve always felt quite alone in this affection for Adam’s Curse. I think I would be quite accurate in saying that many of my Literature-mates


  • consider He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heavens one of their favourites (because seriously, everyone has someone who treads on their dreams);
  • would quote The Second Coming like nobody’s business (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” seems to apply to every plausible situation); or
  • secretly appreciate the brilliance of the two Byzantium poems despite the tedious drilling we received.



Yet I find myself attracted to the parts of Yeats’ writing that struggled with the difficulties of putting pen to paper, and the fear of/repulsion towards putting oneself through suffering for the sake of higher art… I think he’s crazy for proposing to Maud Gonne 5 times, probably just for the pain of it all, but really, is my current situation much different?

(He’s still weird for proposing to her adopted daughter though. Just sayin’.)


Adam’s Curse

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
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know-
Although they do not talk of it at school-
That we must labour to be beautiful.’

I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.


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