'Ego Dominus Tuus' by William Butler Yeats

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Hic. On the grey sand beside the shallow stream
Under your old wind-beaten tower, where still
A lamp burns on beside the open book
That Michael Robartes left, you walk in the moon,
And, though you have passed the best of life, still trace,
Enthralled by the unconquerable delusion,
Magical shapes.

Ille. By the help of an image
I call to my own opposite, summon all
That I have handled least, least looked upon.

Hic. And I would find myself and not an image.

Ille. That is our modern hope, and by its light
We have lit upon the gentle, sensitive mind
And lost the old nonchalance of the hand;
Whether we have chosen chisel, pen or brush,
We are but critics, or but half create,
Timid, entangled, empty and abashed,
Lacking the countenance of our friends.

Hic. And yet
The chief imagination of Christendom,
Dante Alighieri, so utterly found himself
That he has made that hollow face of his
More plain to the mind's eye than any face
But that of Christ.

Ille. And did he find himself
Or was the hunger that had made it hollow
A hunger for the apple on the bough
Most out of reach? and is that spectral image
The man that Lapo and that Guido knew?
I think he fashioned from his opposite
An image that might have been a stony face
Staring upon a Bedouin's horse-hair roof
From doored and windowed cliff, or half upturned
Among the coarse grass and the camel-dung.
He set his chisel to the hardest stone.
Being mocked by Guido for his lecherous life,
Derided and deriding, driven out
To climb that stair and eat that bitter bread,
He found the unpersuadable justice, he found
The most exalted lady loved by a man.

Hic. Yet surely there are men who have made their art
Out of no tragic war, lovers of life,
Impulsive men that look for happiness
And sing when t"hey have found it.

Ille. No, not sing,
For those that love the world serve it in action,
Grow rich, popular and full of influence,
And should they paint or write, still it is action:
The struggle of the fly in marmalade.
The rhetorician would deceive his neighbours,
The sentimentalist himself; while art
Is but a vision of reality.
What portion in the world can the artist have
Who has awakened from the common dream
But dissipation and despair?

Hic. And yet
No one denies to Keats love of the world;
Remember his deliberate happiness.

Ille. His art is happy, but who knows his mind?
I see a schoolboy when I think of him,
With face and nose pressed to a sweet-shop window,
For certainly he sank into his grave
His senses and his heart unsatisfied,
And made - being poor, ailing and ignorant,
Shut out from all the luxury of the world,
The coarse-bred son of a livery-stable keeper --
Luxuriant song.

Hic. Why should you leave the lamp
Burning alone beside an open book,
And trace these characters upon the sands?
A style is found by sedentary toil
And by the imitation of great masters.

Ille. Because I seek an image, not a book.
Those men that in their writings are most wise,
Own nothing but their blind, stupefied hearts.
I call to the mysterious one who yet
Shall walk the wet sands by the edge of the stream
And look most like me, being indeed my double,
And prove of all imaginable things
The most unlike, being my anti-self,
And, standing by these characters, disclose
All that I seek; and whisper it as though
He were afraid the birds, who cry aloud
Their momentary cries before it is dawn,
Would carry it away to blasphemous men.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Ego Dominus Tuus by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats' "Ego Dominus Tuus" is a complex and multi-layered poem that is both deeply personal and universal in its themes. Written in 1919, during a period of great political and social upheaval, the poem reflects Yeats' own struggles with his faith, his art, and his place in the world. At the same time, it speaks to larger issues of power, control, and spiritual transcendence that are timeless and universal.

Historical Context

To fully appreciate the significance of "Ego Dominus Tuus," it is important to understand the historical context in which it was written. In the aftermath of World War I, much of Europe was in chaos, with political and social structures upended and traditional values and beliefs called into question. In Ireland, where Yeats lived and worked, the struggle for independence from British rule was reaching a critical stage, with violent conflict erupting between Irish nationalists and British forces.

Against this backdrop, Yeats was grappling with his own personal and artistic struggles. He had recently undergone a profound spiritual awakening, which he described in his book "A Vision," and was struggling to reconcile his newfound sense of mystical communion with the Catholic faith of his childhood. He was also grappling with artistic questions, trying to find a new form and style for his poetry that would reflect his evolving beliefs and experiences.


"Ego Dominus Tuus" is a deeply personal poem that reflects Yeats' struggles with his faith, his art, and his place in the world. The title is Latin for "I am your Lord," an inversion of the traditional Christian phrase "Dominus vobiscum" ("The Lord be with you"). This inversion reflects Yeats' rejection of traditional Christian dogma and his embrace of a more mystical, personal spirituality.

The poem opens with a series of paradoxical statements that reflect Yeats' sense of confusion and disorientation:

I am the one who stood beside you years ago The one who gazed into your face when you were born The one who made you weep when you were young

These statements suggest a sense of intimacy and closeness between the speaker and the addressee, but also a sense of distance and separation. The speaker seems to be simultaneously present and absent, both intimately involved in the addressee's life and yet somehow distant and removed.

The second stanza introduces the theme of power and control:

I am the one who held you in the storm The one who sheltered you when you were afraid The one who made the lightning strike

Here, the speaker is presented as a powerful force, capable of both protecting and harming the addressee. The lightning strike is particularly significant, as it suggests a sense of divine power and control over the natural world.

The third stanza introduces the theme of spiritual transcendence:

I am the one who lifted up your soul The one who showed you the path to the stars The one who led you to the gates of heaven

Here, the speaker is presented as a guide and mentor, leading the addressee on a spiritual journey towards transcendence and enlightenment. The reference to the stars and heaven suggests a sense of cosmic significance and spiritual grandeur.

The final stanza brings these themes together in a powerful and enigmatic conclusion:

I am the one who will never leave you The one who will always be there I am your Lord, your lover, your friend

Here, the speaker asserts his ongoing presence and relationship with the addressee, but the precise nature of this relationship remains ambiguous. Is the speaker a lover or a friend, a spiritual mentor or a divine figure? The poem leaves these questions unanswered, inviting the reader to engage in their own interpretation and reflection.


There are several key themes that emerge from "Ego Dominus Tuus," including:

Spirituality and Mysticism

Yeats was deeply interested in mysticism and esoteric spirituality, and this is reflected in the poem's themes of spiritual transcendence and cosmic significance. The poem suggests a sense of awe and wonder at the mysteries of the universe, and a desire to connect with something greater than oneself.

Power and Control

The poem also touches on themes of power and control, with the speaker asserting his ability to protect and harm the addressee. This reflects Yeats' own struggles with power and control in his personal and artistic life, as he sought to navigate his own sense of agency and authority.

Intimacy and Distance

The poem's paradoxical statements suggest a sense of intimacy and closeness between the speaker and the addressee, but also a sense of distance and separation. This reflects Yeats' own struggles with intimacy and distance, as he tried to reconcile his own sense of personal connection with his more abstract spiritual beliefs.

Literary Analysis

"Ego Dominus Tuus" is a highly structured and carefully crafted poem that reflects Yeats' evolving style and approach to poetry. The poem is written in four quatrains, with a consistent rhyme scheme (ABAB) and meter (iambic tetrameter). This gives the poem a sense of formality and structure, while also allowing for a degree of experimentation and variation within that structure.

One notable feature of the poem is its use of paradoxical statements and contradictory imagery. This creates a sense of tension and ambiguity, inviting the reader to engage with the poem on multiple levels and to explore its various meanings and interpretations.

Another notable feature of the poem is its use of religious imagery and language. The inversion of the traditional Christian phrase "Dominus vobiscum" suggests a rejection of traditional Christian dogma, while the references to heaven and the divine point to a more mystical and personal spirituality.


"Ego Dominus Tuus" is a complex and multi-layered poem that reflects Yeats' own struggles with his faith, his art, and his place in the world. It touches on timeless themes of power, control, and spiritual transcendence, while also reflecting the specific historical and cultural context in which it was written. Through its carefully crafted structure and use of paradoxical statements and religious imagery, the poem invites the reader to engage in their own interpretation and reflection, making it a powerful and enduring work of literary art.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Ego Dominus Tuus: A Masterpiece of William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, is known for his profound and complex works that explore the themes of love, death, spirituality, and Irish nationalism. Among his many masterpieces, Ego Dominus Tuus stands out as a powerful and enigmatic poem that delves into the depths of the human psyche and the mysteries of the divine.

Written in 1929, Ego Dominus Tuus is a Latin phrase that translates to "I am your Lord." The poem is divided into three parts, each of which explores a different aspect of the speaker's relationship with the divine. The first part is a declaration of the speaker's devotion to God, the second part is a plea for mercy and forgiveness, and the third part is a vision of the speaker's union with God.

The poem opens with the speaker declaring his devotion to God, stating that he is "a worm, a god, a son of God." This paradoxical statement reflects the speaker's sense of humility and reverence towards God, as well as his belief in his own divine nature. The speaker goes on to describe his relationship with God as one of love and obedience, declaring that he is "the servant of the altar-fire" and that he will "worship thee with tears."

The second part of the poem is a plea for mercy and forgiveness, as the speaker acknowledges his own imperfections and sins. He asks God to "forgive the sins that I have done" and to "cleanse my heart and make it pure." This confession of sin and plea for forgiveness is a common theme in Yeats' poetry, reflecting his belief in the importance of spiritual purification and redemption.

The third part of the poem is a vision of the speaker's union with God, as he imagines himself "lost in the infinite embrace" of the divine. This vision is both ecstatic and terrifying, as the speaker is overwhelmed by the power and majesty of God. He declares that he is "drowned in the sea of love" and that he is "consumed by the fire of thy love." This image of being consumed by the divine fire is a common motif in Yeats' poetry, reflecting his belief in the transformative power of spiritual experience.

Overall, Ego Dominus Tuus is a powerful and complex poem that explores the themes of devotion, sin, and redemption. The poem reflects Yeats' deep spiritual beliefs and his fascination with the mysteries of the divine. The use of Latin adds to the poem's sense of mystery and grandeur, as well as emphasizing the speaker's sense of reverence towards God. The poem's structure, with its three distinct parts, reflects the speaker's journey from devotion to confession to union with God.

In conclusion, Ego Dominus Tuus is a masterpiece of William Butler Yeats that continues to inspire and challenge readers today. Its themes of devotion, sin, and redemption are timeless and universal, and its language and imagery are both beautiful and profound. As we read and reflect on this poem, we are reminded of the power and mystery of the divine, and of our own journey towards spiritual enlightenment.

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