Yeats – Adam’s Curse (1904)

Part of In the Seven Woods (1904)–the first of Yeats’ middle period, in which he begins to forego romantic imagery in favor of sparser style. This poem (sometimes read as an exception to this movement–I will do the opposite) is comprised of rhyming couplets, iambic pentameter with variations (heroic). It opens by attempting to justify the labor of poetry as socially significant—implying that, just as a woman must labor to beautify herself, just as a someone must scrub floors—so the poet must work (“For to articulate sweet sounds together / is to work harder than all these”). Yet this anxiety tips over into the hollow appropriations of dead verse by merely “learned” lovers (That they sigh and quote with learned looks / Precedents out of beautiful old books; / Yet now it seems an idle trade enough”). The final two stanzas position the poet himself as engaged in a romantic exchange that is at first silent (“We sat grown quiet at the name of love”) and then, despite efforts on the poet’s part to love “in the old high way of love,” becomes hollow. Indeed, “as weary hearted as that hollow moon” could be read as just the type of weak and obvious simile that Yeats would associate with bad, clunky poetry. This then calls attention to the strangeness of the heroic couplets, which are poorly suited to the material at hand. This is bad poetry that does not meet the standards elaborated at the opening:

A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet is it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

A good poem to turn to when talking about Symbolism, since it takes up the terms o f that movement negatively–i.e. this is what it’s not!

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