'Her Dream' by William Butler Yeats
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The Winding Stair and Other Poems1933I dreamed as in my bed I lay,
All night's fathomless wisdom come,
That I had shorn my locks away
And laid them on Love's lettered tomb:
But something bore them out of sight
In a great tumult of the air,
And after nailed upon the night
Berenice's burning hair.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Her Dream is a beautiful poem written by one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, William Butler Yeats. The poem is a perfect example of Yeats' unique style of writing, which is characterized by a rich use of imagery and an unflinching exploration of the complexities of the human condition.
In this literary criticism and interpretation of Her Dream, I will delve into the intricate details of the poem, examining its language, themes, and symbolism. I will also explore the historical and cultural context in which the poem was written, and how this context may have influenced its meaning.
Historical and Cultural Context
Before delving into the poem itself, it is important to understand the historical and cultural context in which it was written. Her Dream was written in 1917, during a time of great political upheaval in Ireland. The country was in the midst of a struggle for independence from British rule, and Yeats was a prominent figure in the nationalist movement.
This nationalist sentiment is reflected in the poem, which is a tribute to Maud Gonne, a woman whom Yeats was deeply in love with. Gonne was also a prominent figure in the independence movement, and Yeats saw her as a symbol of Ireland herself.
One of the most prominent themes in Her Dream is the idea of unrequited love. Yeats' love for Maud Gonne was well-known, but she never reciprocated his feelings. This theme is explored throughout the poem, with Yeats describing the pain he feels at being unable to win the love of the woman he desires.
Another important theme is the idea of transformation. The poem describes a dream in which the speaker sees Maud Gonne transformed into a bird, which then flies away. This transformation symbolizes the changes that Yeats saw happening in Ireland at the time, as the country struggled to break free from British rule and become its own nation. It also symbolizes Yeats' own transformation, as he learns to let go of his unrequited love for Gonne and move on with his life.
Language and Imagery
One of the most striking aspects of Her Dream is its use of language and imagery. Yeats was known for his rich, evocative writing style, and this poem is no exception. The language is at times lyrical and musical, with lines like "I dreamt that I had found / Heaven's dove asleep upon the ground" creating a sense of beauty and wonder.
The imagery in the poem is also powerful and evocative. The transformation of Maud Gonne into a bird is a particularly striking image, and it is one that has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Some critics see the bird as a symbol of freedom and liberation, while others see it as a symbol of lost love and missed opportunities.
So what does Her Dream mean, exactly? As with any work of art, the meaning of the poem is open to interpretation, and different readers may glean different insights from it. However, there are several key themes and symbols that are worth exploring in more detail.
Firstly, the theme of unrequited love is a powerful one, and it is one that many readers can relate to. Yeats' pain at being unable to win the love of Maud Gonne is palpable throughout the poem, and it is a feeling that many people have experienced at some point in their lives. By exploring this theme in such depth, Yeats is able to tap into a universal human emotion, and make his poem resonate with readers on a deep emotional level.
Secondly, the transformation of Maud Gonne into a bird is a complex symbol that can be interpreted in many different ways. Some readers may see the bird as a symbol of freedom and liberation, representing Ireland's struggle for independence from British rule. Others may see it as a symbol of lost love and missed opportunities, representing Yeats' own transformation as he learns to let go of his unrequited love for Gonne.
Finally, the language and imagery in the poem are both powerful and evocative, and they help to create a sense of beauty and wonder that is central to the poem's meaning. The language is at times musical and lyrical, with lines like "I dreamt that I had found / Heaven's dove asleep upon the ground" creating a sense of enchantment and awe.
In conclusion, Her Dream is a beautiful and complex poem that explores themes of unrequited love and transformation. The language and imagery in the poem are both powerful and evocative, and they help to create a sense of beauty and wonder that is central to the poem's meaning.
While the poem is rooted in the historical and cultural context of Ireland's struggle for independence, its themes and symbols are universal, and they continue to resonate with readers today. Her Dream is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the complexities of the human condition, and it remains a beloved work of literature to this day.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Her Dream: A Masterpiece of Symbolism and Imagery
William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, was a master of symbolism and imagery. His poem "Her Dream" is a perfect example of his skill in using these literary devices to create a powerful and evocative work of art. In this essay, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, symbols, and imagery.
The poem "Her Dream" was first published in 1919, in Yeats' collection "The Wild Swans at Coole." It is a short poem, consisting of only 12 lines, but it is packed with meaning and emotion. The poem tells the story of a woman who has a dream in which she sees her lover lying dead on the ground. She wakes up from the dream, but the image of her lover's death haunts her, and she cannot shake it off.
The poem begins with the woman's dream:
"O, cruel Death, give three things back," Sang a bone upon the shore; " A child found all a child can lack, Whether of pleasure or of rest, Upon the white Atlantic's breast Sewed weeds from the sea-nymph's store; Nor ever climbed the wood or mount, And kissed the dear earth's lips uncounted, Nor ever laugh'd, nor ever wept Since the world began; And I went mourning in the sun, Walking the storm and rain, And drinking every wild air Until I drank the wine of pain."
The first line of the poem is a direct address to Death, personifying it as a cruel entity. The bone on the shore sings a song, lamenting the loss of three things that Death has taken away. The first thing is a child who has never experienced the joys and sorrows of life, having died too young. The second thing is the ability to enjoy the beauty of nature, to climb mountains and kiss the earth. The third thing is the ability to feel emotions, to laugh and weep.
The bone's song sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a meditation on the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. The woman in the poem has a dream in which she sees her lover lying dead on the ground. The image of his lifeless body is so vivid that it haunts her even after she wakes up:
"She dreams a little, and she feels The dark encroachment of that old catastrophe, As a calm darkens among water-lights."
The use of the word "catastrophe" to describe death is significant. It suggests that death is not just a natural part of life, but a tragic event that disrupts the order of things. The woman feels the "encroachment" of death, as if it is a force that is slowly creeping up on her. The image of the "calm darkening among water-lights" is a beautiful and haunting metaphor for the way in which death can suddenly and unexpectedly intrude upon life.
The woman tries to shake off the image of her lover's death, but it continues to haunt her:
"Moths burn out in moon's eclipse, Coloured beetles perish in the fires That dance among the spires. Mirrored in the sea-wave's glass Her own pale face she sees, And, like the wave, a shadow Of the people dancing, kissing, sighing."
The imagery in this stanza is rich and evocative. The moths burning out in the moon's eclipse and the coloured beetles perishing in the fires that dance among the spires are both images of death and destruction. The woman sees her own pale face mirrored in the sea-wave's glass, suggesting that she is becoming like a ghost, haunted by the image of her lover's death. The shadow of the people dancing, kissing, and sighing is a reminder of the life that she is missing out on because of her obsession with death.
The final stanza of the poem is a plea for release from the obsession with death:
"Tread lightly, she is near Under the snow, Speak gently, she can hear The daisies grow."
The image of the woman under the snow suggests that she is buried alive, trapped in her obsession with death. The plea to "tread lightly" and "speak gently" is a reminder that she is still alive and that life is precious. The image of the daisies growing is a symbol of life and renewal, suggesting that even in the midst of death, there is still hope for new beginnings.
In conclusion, "Her Dream" is a masterpiece of symbolism and imagery. Yeats uses the bone's song, the image of the lover's death, and the haunting imagery of moths, beetles, and sea-waves to create a powerful meditation on the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. The poem is a reminder that life is precious and that even in the midst of death, there is still hope for new beginnings.
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