'All Souls' Night' by William Butler Yeats
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Epilogue to "A Vision'
MIDNIGHT has come, and the great Christ Church Bell
And may a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls' Night,
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost's right,
His element is so fine
Being sharpened by his death,
To drink from the wine-breath
While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.
I need some mind that, if the cannon sound
From every quarter of the world, can stay
Wound in mind's pondering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound;
Because I have a marvellous thing to say,
A certain marvellous thing
None but the living mock,
Though not for sober ear;
It may be all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.
Horton's the first I call. He loved strange thought
And knew that sweet extremity of pride
That's called platonic love,
And that to such a pitch of passion wrought
Nothing could bring him, when his lady died,
Anodyne for his love.
Words were but wasted breath;
One dear hope had he:
Of that or the next winter would be death.
Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell
Whether of her or God he thought the most,
But think that his mind's eye,
When upward turned, on one sole image fell;
And that a slight companionable ghost,
Wild with divinity,
Had so lit up the whole
Immense miraculous house
The Bible promised us,
It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.
On Florence Emery I call the next,
Who finding the first wrinkles on a face
Admired and beautiful,
And knowing that the future would be vexed
With 'minished beauty, multiplied commonplace,
preferred to teach a school
Away from neighbour or friend,
Among dark skins, and there
permit foul years to wear
Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.
Before that end much had she ravelled out
From a discourse in figurative speech
By some learned Indian
On the soul's journey. How it is whirled about,
Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,
Until it plunge into the sun;
And there, free and yet fast,
Being both Chance and Choice,
Forget its broken toys
And sink into its own delight at last.
And I call up MacGregor from the grave,
For in my first hard springtime we were friends.
Although of late estranged.
I thought him half a lunatic, half knave,
And told him so, but friendship never ends;
And what if mind seem changed,
And it seem changed with the mind,
When thoughts rise up unbid
On generous things that he did
And I grow half contented to be blind!
He had much industry at setting out,
Much boisterous courage, before loneliness
Had driven him crazed;
For meditations upon unknown thought
Make human intercourse grow less and less;
They are neither paid nor praised.
but he d object to the host,
The glass because my glass;
A ghost-lover he was
And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.
But names are nothing. What matter who it be,
So that his elements have grown so fine
The fume of muscatel
Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy
No living man can drink from the whole wine.
I have mummy truths to tell
Whereat the living mock,
Though not for sober ear,
For maybe all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.
Such thought -- such thought have I that hold it tight
Till meditation master all its parts,
Nothing can stay my glance
Until that glance run in the world's despite
To where the damned have howled away their hearts,
And where the blessed dance;
Such thought, that in it bound
I need no other thing,
Wound in mind's wandering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.
Oxford, Autumn 1920
Editor 1 Interpretation
All Souls' Night by William Butler Yeats: A Masterpiece of Symbolism and Mysticism
William Butler Yeats’ “All Souls' Night” is a complex and evocative poem that explores themes of death, rebirth, and the afterlife through a rich tapestry of symbolism, mythology, and mysticism. Written in 1920, the poem was inspired by Yeats’ fascination with the occult and his belief in the spiritual world, which he saw as a way of transcending the limitations of the material realm.
At its core, “All Souls' Night” is a meditation on the transience of life and the eternal nature of the soul. Through its vivid imagery and haunting beauty, the poem invites the reader on a journey through the mystical landscape of the afterlife, where the souls of the departed are said to gather on the night of All Souls’ Day, a Christian holiday that commemorates the dead.
Structure and Form
The poem is structured around a series of seven stanzas, each consisting of seven lines, with a rhyme scheme of ABABCBC. This structure creates a sense of stately ritual that echoes the solemnity of the subject matter.
The poem is also notable for its use of repetition and refrain, which create a sense of incantation and ritual. The refrain, “And the dead were at my feet,” is repeated throughout the poem, creating a sense of a journey or progression through the afterlife.
Imagery and Symbolism
The poem is rich in symbolism, drawing on a wide range of mythological and spiritual traditions. The most prominent image in the poem is that of the “wheel,” which is used to symbolize the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. This image is drawn from the ancient Celtic tradition of the wheel of life, which represents the eternal cycle of death and rebirth.
The poem is also infused with imagery drawn from Christian mythology, such as the “Christ’s feet” that appear in the second stanza, and the “angel’s horn” that is mentioned in the fourth stanza. These images serve to underscore the poem’s themes of death and redemption.
Other key images in the poem include the “crumbling citadels” that are mentioned in the first stanza, which symbolize the transience of human achievement, and the “mountain tower” that appears in the third stanza, which represents the gateway to the afterlife.
Themes and Interpretation
At its core, “All Souls' Night” is a meditation on the nature of the afterlife and the eternal nature of the soul. Through its use of symbolism and mysticism, the poem suggests that the soul transcends the limitations of the physical world, existing beyond death and rebirth.
The poem also explores themes of redemption and spiritual transformation. The image of the “Christ’s feet” in the second stanza suggests the possibility of redemption through faith, while the “mountain tower” in the third stanza represents the possibility of spiritual transformation through the attainment of higher knowledge.
The poem’s central image of the “wheel” suggests that life and death are part of an eternal cycle, and that the soul is reborn again and again in a process of spiritual growth and evolution. This idea is echoed in the closing lines of the poem, where the speaker declares that “life is all memory” and that “the dead live.”
In “All Souls' Night,” William Butler Yeats has created a powerful and evocative meditation on the afterlife and the eternal nature of the soul. Through its use of symbolism and mysticism, the poem invites the reader on a journey through the mystical landscape of the afterlife, where the souls of the departed are said to gather on the night of All Souls’ Day.
Ultimately, the poem suggests that death is not an end, but a gateway to a higher realm of existence, where the soul is free to evolve and grow beyond the limitations of the physical world. Through its haunting beauty and rich symbolism, “All Souls' Night” remains one of Yeats’ most enduring and powerful works, a testament to the enduring power of poetry to explore the mysteries of life, death, and the afterlife.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
All Souls' Night: A Masterpiece of William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats, the renowned Irish poet, wrote "All Souls' Night" in 1920. The poem is a part of his collection, "The Tower," which is considered one of his most significant works. "All Souls' Night" is a complex and enigmatic poem that explores the themes of death, rebirth, and the afterlife. It is a masterpiece that showcases Yeats' poetic genius and his ability to create a mystical and haunting atmosphere through his words.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a scene of a group of people gathered around a fire on All Souls' Night, a night when the dead are believed to return to the living world. The speaker describes the fire as "the fire that stirs about her when she wakes," referring to the goddess of death, who is believed to be present on this night. The fire is also described as "the fire of the mind," which suggests that the people gathered around it are engaged in a spiritual or intellectual activity.
The speaker then describes the arrival of the dead, who are "borne upon the midnight air." The dead are described as "the lonely, the insatiable, the passionate," suggesting that they are driven by strong emotions and desires. The speaker also describes them as "the ghosts of beauty and of youth," suggesting that they are the memories of the living who have passed away.
The poem then takes a darker turn as the speaker describes the dead as "the terrible ones," who are "the murderers and the murdered." This suggests that the dead are not all benevolent and that some of them may have committed heinous crimes in their lives. The speaker also describes them as "the lovers whom we thought dead," suggesting that some of the dead may have been involved in illicit love affairs.
The speaker then describes the dead as "the great forgotten," suggesting that they have been forgotten by the living and that their memories have faded away. The dead are also described as "the unavenged," suggesting that they may have been wronged in their lives and that their grievances have not been addressed.
The poem then takes a more hopeful turn as the speaker describes the dead as "the happy," who are "the radiant ones." This suggests that some of the dead have found peace and happiness in the afterlife. The speaker also describes them as "the great company," suggesting that they are not alone in the afterlife and that they are surrounded by others who have passed away.
The poem ends with the speaker describing the dead as "the living," suggesting that they are not truly dead but have simply moved on to another realm of existence. The speaker also describes them as "the immortal," suggesting that they have achieved a form of immortality through their memories and their impact on the living world.
Overall, "All Souls' Night" is a complex and enigmatic poem that explores the themes of death, rebirth, and the afterlife. It is a masterpiece that showcases Yeats' poetic genius and his ability to create a mystical and haunting atmosphere through his words. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to capture the mysteries of life and death and to provide comfort and solace to those who are left behind.
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