Today we have another W.B Yeats poem. One day Maud Gonne was looking very disheveled after a
tiring day and her sister Kathleen was looking very pretty. Yeats goes and compliments Kathleen on her dress and
Kathleen tells him : ” it is hard work being beautiful”. This poem is inspired by Kathleen’s comment.
Yeats is surprised by Kathleen’s comment. Beauty is considered a natural thing. But Kathleen’s comment
tells us that it is something that can be acquired by hard work. In this poem Yeats talks about poetry, beauty and love- all
things that seem natural and spontaneous but in reality require labor, planning and hard work. See also my detailed
interpretation at the end of the poem.
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.”
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.
In the first stanza Yeats talks about the hard work of writing poetry. He says that every line takes a lot of time
and correction to write. The poet has to rewrite it several times to get it right. And when a reader reads that line
it has to seem spontaneous otherwise the poetry is useless. But the world and worldly people ( like bankers)
do not have any appreciation for a poet’s hard work.
In the second stanza Yeats talks about the hard work of achieving beauty and of love. In this stanza the girl tells
Yeats that “”To be born woman is to know — that we must labour to be beautiful”. And then Yeats realizes that
love is also not spontaneous and needs hard work. He talks about how some lovers seem to think that they can
win over their objects of affection by “precedents out of beautiful old books” but they always fail.
In the final stanza Yeats realizes that his own love for Maud Gonne has been flawed. He tried to win her heart
without working hard for it. He never realized before this time that love would also require hard work. He says that
“That you were beautiful, and that I strove” and “To love you in the old high way of love”. So in this last stanza he
connects two imperfect things: Maud’s beauty and his love for her. But one thing has become successful: Maud’s beauty.
And we have seen that beauty requires hard work. But the other thing: Yeats’ love remains unsuccessful because he
has merely tried to be natural in it- he has not given it the effort that it requires. And in the end he becomes tired :
” As weary-hearted as that hollow moon”. He becomes tired because his way : “To love you in the old high way of love”
has been completely unsuccessful.
So in this poem Yeats tries to compare the three labours of love, beauty and poetry and he tries to come to an
understanding of why his love for Maud has been unsuccessful.
inheen patharoon pe chal kar agar aa sako to aao
mere ghar ke raaste mein koi kehkashan nahin hai
( If you can walk on these stones then you are welcome…
the path to my house is not filled with stars)