Interpretation of A Poet to his Beloved by William Buttler Yeats

Background
“A Poet to his Beloved” was written by Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. It was first with other poems in his collection “A wind among the reeds” in 1899. Much of Yeat’s early poetry centered on themes of love and courtship. It is believed these poems, including “A Poet to his Beloved”, were inspired by and dedicated to Maud Gonne, a women whom he loved for many years.

Structure
The poem is a single stanza composed of eight lines. The rhyme scheme is not very regular as it follows the structure ABC AC DBD. The meter, however, flows well when the poem is read.

Analysis
I bring you with reverent hands
The books of my numberless dreams;

From the very first two lines of the poem it is evident how much the speaker (henceforth referred to as “he”) values who he is speaking to. If Maud Gonne was truly the subject of this poem and Yeats the speaker, he delivered a strong message of his love right from the start. To begin, the speaker uses the word “reverent”. This means he shows very deep affection and respect. His “reverent hands” demonstrate the devotion held toward the person this poem is for, the beloved. It is with those “reverent hands” that the speaker turns over “numberless dreams”. The term “numberless” can be taken as “countless”, meaning there are many dreams, so many they can fill books. It is with deep affection, respect, and humility the speaker is telling the beloved this. It demonstrates the speaker’s deep love and affection over the course of a very long time.

White woman that passion has worn

White is often associated with good and pure. With that context, it makes sense to be followed up with the speaker saying passion has “worn” the white woman. This means she was once very pure, whether it be physically or emotionally, but passion has changed that. It is not necessarily a bad thing– just another example of what happens with the passage of time. If the reader considers the first three lines a testament to how long the speaker has been in love with his beloved, it shows quite a great devotion.

As the tide wears the dove-gray sands,

Once again there is time passing and the wearing down of things. In the previous line, it was passion that had worn down the purity, or whiteness, of the woman. In this line, the tide is eroding the dove-gray sands. Although water can be refreshing and provide renewal, it can also wear things down. It is vital and unyielding, just like time. The “dove-gray sands” sound beautiful but it is of note that the speaker did not choose something bright, light, and pure for the line.

And with heart more old than the horn

The speaker now brings age into the poem with an old heart. It is an old heart that has never stopped loving the same person. Affection has not died down despite how many years have gone by. Horns have been used from a very early time at times when announcements needed to be made, warnings sent, or even during times of celebration. It is as if the speaker is declaring his love, while also making a point to show how long he has loved the same person.

That is brimmed from the pale fire of time:

In this line, the word “time” is directly used. The speaker is driving the point home. It is also worth note the use of a colon. The final two lines will bring a resolution to this declaration.

White woman with numberless dreams

Despite the time that has passed and the white woman having been described as worn by passion earlier, she is still “pure” in his eyes. Whatever the speaker took to mean and value as purity is undetermined but it is clear he highly values his beloved no matter what. And in a perfect way to be one of two lines closing out the poem, the “numberless dreams” make an appearance again. She is the woman of his dreams, literally and figuratively.

I bring you my passionate rhyme.

The poem closes out with the speaker bringing his beloved “passionate rhyme”, in other words being a poet for her. She inspires beautiful thoughts and language in the speaker. She brings him passion in many ways and he wants to express to her any way he can.

Summary
Though the poem is quite short, there is a lot of content to it. The speaker declares his love for a woman, seemingly not for the first time, and makes it clear he has loved her for very long. He does this by showing the passage of time rather than telling it. He mentions his numerous dreams, describes aspects of her as “worn”, and talks of an old heart with a horn for context. Although only eight lines long, the poem is filled with emotion and meaning.

Theme
The overarching theme of the poem is the importance of a devoted love, especially a singular one over an extended period of time. The speaker makes it clear one should appreciate and be committed to the person one loves.

Reference
– http://www.bartleby.com/146/18.html
– http://www.bartleby.com/br/146.html
– http://us.macmillan.com/apoettohisbeloved/williambutleryeats

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Alexis C

Alexis C

I am a lover of literature in all its forms and from all time periods. I am a passionate short-fiction writer and poet who also enjoys teaching.
Alexis C

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