Yeats – A Coat (1914)

The second to last poem in Responsibilities (1914), it is one of Yeats most sparse and biting poems, critiquing in 10 lines improper relationship to history, the  middle-class reception of his poetry, and the flowery language of his early poetry:

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’s wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.

The rhyming scheme opens with In Memoriam stanza but quickly devolves into ABAAB(C/B). Further, the A is merely It repeated three times, barely a rhyme, and naked almost rhymes with it, a commentary, perhaps, on the bare bones of poetic resources. Imagery is allusive to other Yeats poems: the coat looks forward to Sailing to Byzantium. Mythologies could be tied in with no second Troy. And the task of embroidering harkens back to Adam’s Curse. The turn to “Song” in the closing lines effectively objectifies poetry as something outside the complete control of the poet: his poems have taken up and used by readers that have an insufficiently critical relationship to Irish myth and history. Yet asking the Song to walk naked is paradoxical, since it is a piece of clothing? So here is a disavowal of poetry, but a disavowal that will become immanent to poetic form. “Naked” then points forward to Yeats later sparseness.

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