'His Bargain' by William Butler Yeats

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The Winding Stair and Other Poems1933Who talks of Plato's spindle;
What set it whirling round?
Eternity may dwindle,
Time is unwound,
Dan and Jerry Lout
Change their loves about.
However they may take it,
Before the thread began
I made, and may not break it
When the last thread has run,
A bargain with that hair
And all the windings there.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"His Bargain" by William Butler Yeats: A Deep Dive into the Complex Themes and Symbolism

As one delves into the world of modern Irish literature, one author who stands out as a timeless master is William Butler Yeats. His works are filled with mysticism, symbolism, and a deep understanding of the human condition. One such poem that showcases Yeats' genius is "His Bargain".

In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the complex themes and symbolism of "His Bargain" and unravel its meaning. We will also analyze Yeats' unique poetic style and the impact it has had on the literary world.

Setting the Stage: An Overview of "His Bargain"

"His Bargain" is a poem that was published in Yeats' second collection of poems, "The Rose". It was written in the year 1893 and was heavily influenced by Yeats' interest in Irish mythology and folklore.

The poem is set in a mystical world where the protagonist, who is referred to as "he" throughout the poem, has made a deal with the devil. The devil has promised him all the riches and fame he desires, but at a cost. The cost being the protagonist's soul.

The poem is structured in four stanzas, each with four lines. The language used is simple yet profound, with a rhythmic and almost musical quality to it. The imagery used is rich and vivid, with vivid descriptions of nature and the supernatural world.

Exploring the Themes of "His Bargain"

One of the primary themes explored in "His Bargain" is the idea of the Faustian bargain. The Faustian bargain is a literary concept that refers to the pact made between an individual and the devil, where the individual trades their soul for power or knowledge. In "His Bargain", the protagonist has made a deal with the devil, where he has traded his soul for all the riches and fame he desires.

The poem also explores the theme of greed and the destructive effects it can have on an individual's life. The protagonist's insatiable desire for wealth and fame ultimately leads to his downfall. He becomes consumed by his desire for more, and this leads him to make a deal with the devil, which ultimately results in the loss of his soul.

The theme of the supernatural is also prevalent in the poem. The devil is portrayed as a supernatural being, who possesses immense power and is capable of fulfilling the protagonist's desires. The use of supernatural elements in the poem adds to its sense of mysticism and reinforces the idea that the protagonist's deal with the devil is not a trivial matter.

Unraveling the Symbolism of "His Bargain"

One of the most striking aspects of "His Bargain" is the use of symbolism to convey deeper meaning. The poem is filled with rich and vivid imagery, and each image serves a purpose in conveying the poem's themes.

The river that is mentioned in the second stanza is a powerful symbol in the poem. The river represents the flow of time and the inevitability of change. It is described as "swift and cold", which represents the fast-paced nature of life and how quickly it can pass by. The river is also described as "deep as death", which is a metaphor for the finality of death and how it is a natural part of life.

The "silver apples of the moon" and the "golden apples of the sun" are also powerful symbols in the poem. They represent the protagonist's desire for wealth and fame. The silver apples represent the wealth that he desires, while the golden apples represent the fame that he craves. The apples are described as being out of reach, which symbolizes the protagonist's inability to attain his desires on his own.

The devil himself is also a symbol in the poem. He represents the temptation and allure of the material world. He is described as having "eyes like carbuncles", which symbolizes his deceptive nature. The carbuncles are precious stones that are often used in jewelry, but in the context of the devil's eyes, they represent false beauty and allure.

Analyzing Yeats' Poetic Style

Yeats' unique poetic style is another aspect of "His Bargain" that deserves attention. His use of simple language and structure is deceiving, as the poem is filled with complex themes and symbolism. He uses repetition and rhyme to create a sense of rhythm and musicality, which adds to the poem's overall impact.

Yeats' use of nature imagery is also noteworthy. He often uses imagery from nature to convey deeper meaning and to reinforce the poem's themes. In "His Bargain", the river, the apples, and the supernatural elements of the devil are all examples of how Yeats uses nature imagery to add depth and meaning to his poetry.


In conclusion, "His Bargain" is a poem that showcases William Butler Yeats' genius as a poet. The poem explores complex themes such as the Faustian bargain, greed, and the supernatural. It also makes use of rich and vivid symbolism to convey deeper meaning. Yeats' unique poetic style adds to the poem's impact, and his use of nature imagery reinforces the poem's themes.

"His Bargain" is a timeless work of literature that continues to captivate readers even today. It is a testament to Yeats' skill as a poet and his ability to create poetry that is both profound and accessible. For those who are new to Yeats' work or to Irish literature in general, "His Bargain" is an excellent place to start.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has always been a medium for expressing the deepest and most complex emotions of the human soul. It is a form of art that transcends time and space, and speaks to the very essence of our being. One such masterpiece of poetry is "His Bargain" by William Butler Yeats. This poem is a hauntingly beautiful exploration of the human condition, and the price we pay for our desires.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a man who has made a bargain with the devil. This man has sold his soul in exchange for the fulfillment of his desires. The speaker then goes on to describe the man's life, which is filled with all the pleasures and riches that he could ever want. However, despite all of this, the man is still haunted by a sense of emptiness and despair.

The first stanza of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The speaker describes the man's bargain with the devil, and the consequences that come with it. The use of the word "bargain" is significant, as it implies that the man has made a conscious decision to trade his soul for his desires. This suggests that the man is not a victim, but rather a willing participant in his own downfall.

The second stanza of the poem describes the man's life after making the bargain. He is described as having "all that heart could desire," and living a life of luxury and pleasure. However, despite all of this, the man is still plagued by a sense of emptiness and despair. The use of the word "haunted" is particularly powerful here, as it suggests that the man's desires have come at a great cost.

The third stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful. The speaker describes the man's realization that he has made a terrible mistake. He is described as being "sick with desire," and realizing that he has "sold his soul to a devil." This realization is a turning point in the poem, as it marks the beginning of the man's downfall.

The fourth stanza of the poem describes the man's descent into madness. He is described as being "mad with all desire," and his once beautiful life is now described as a "waste." The use of the word "mad" is significant here, as it suggests that the man has lost his grip on reality. He is no longer able to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

The fifth and final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most haunting. The speaker describes the man's death, and the realization that he has lost everything. He is described as being "dead and damned," and his once beautiful life is now described as a "waste." The use of the word "damned" is particularly powerful here, as it suggests that the man's soul has been lost forever.

In conclusion, "His Bargain" is a hauntingly beautiful exploration of the human condition, and the price we pay for our desires. The poem is a warning against the dangers of greed and the pursuit of pleasure at any cost. It is a reminder that there are consequences to our actions, and that we must be careful what we wish for. William Butler Yeats has created a masterpiece of poetry that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

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