'Under Saturn' by William Butler Yeats
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Do not because this day I have grown saturnine
Imagine that lost love, inseparable from my thought
Because I have no other youth, can make me pine;
For how should I forget the wisdom that you brought,
The comfort that you made? Although my wits have gone
On a fantastic ride, my horse's flanks are spurred
By childish memories of an old cross Pollexfen,
And of a Middleton, whose name you never heard,
And of a red-haired Yeats whose looks, although he died
Before my time, seem like a vivid memory.
You heard that labouring man who had served my people. He said
Upon the open road, near to the Sligo quay -
No, no, not said, but cried it out - 'You have come again,
And surely after twenty years it was time to come.'
I am thinking of a child's vow sworn in vain
Never to leave that valley his fathers called their home.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Under Saturn: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation
William Butler Yeats is an iconic figure in the world of poetry. His works are known for their depth, complexity, and the richness of the imagery they contain. One of Yeats' most famous poems is "Under Saturn," a work that has fascinated readers and critics for decades. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, symbolism, and literary devices used by Yeats in "Under Saturn," uncovering the rich tapestry of meaning that lies beneath the surface of this remarkable work.
Background and Context
"Under Saturn" was written by Yeats in 1893, at a time when he was still exploring his own artistic voice and experimenting with different styles and forms. The poem is part of Yeats' early body of work, which was heavily influenced by the Romantic poets of the 19th century. At the same time, "Under Saturn" is also infused with Yeats' own unique blend of Irish mysticism, symbolism, and mythology.
The poem takes its title from the astrological concept of Saturn, which was associated with melancholy, solitude, and introspection. In ancient mythology, Saturn was the god of time and the harvest, a figure who presided over the cycle of life and death. This symbolism is reflected in the themes of the poem, which explore the rhythms of nature, the inevitability of aging and mortality, and the transience of human existence.
Themes and Symbolism
At its core, "Under Saturn" is a meditation on the passage of time and the fragility of human life. The poem is divided into two parts, the first of which describes the beauty and vitality of youth and the second of which reflects on the inevitability of aging and death.
In the opening lines of the poem, Yeats paints a vivid picture of a beautiful, vibrant world, full of life and energy:
Mythical Powers I dreamed that one had died in a strange place Near no accustomed hand, And they had nailed the boards above her face, The peasants of that land, Wondering to lay her in that solitude, And raised above her mound And planted cypress round; And left her to the indifferent stars above Until I carved these words: She was more beautiful than thy first love, But now lies under boards.
Here, the speaker describes a dream in which a beautiful woman has died in a strange place and has been buried by the villagers of that land. The image of the cypress trees planted around her grave is a traditional symbol of mourning and death, evoking a sense of sorrow and loss.
At the same time, however, the speaker also suggests that the woman was once full of life and beauty, more beautiful than "thy first love," a reference to the idealized image of youthful romantic love. This juxtaposition of life and death, beauty and decay, sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as Yeats meditates on the transience of human existence.
In the second half of the poem, Yeats explores the theme of aging and mortality more explicitly, as the speaker reflects on his own experience of growing old:
The intellect of man is forced to choose Perfection of the life, or of the work, And if it take the second must refuse A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark. When all that story's finished, what's the news? In luck or out the toil has left its mark: That old perplexity an empty purse, Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse.
Here, Yeats contrasts the desire for perfection and achievement with the reality of aging and mortality. The speaker suggests that as we grow older, we are forced to choose between pursuing perfection in our work or in our personal lives, and that ultimately, neither choice can protect us from the ravages of time. The image of the "heavenly mansion raging in the dark" suggests a sense of futility and despair, as the speaker realizes that no matter what he achieves in life, it will ultimately be erased by the passage of time.
Throughout the poem, Yeats uses a range of symbols and metaphors to evoke a sense of loss, decay, and transience. The cypress trees around the woman's grave, the image of the "indifferent stars," and the metaphor of the "empty purse" all suggest a sense of emptiness and futility in the face of mortality. At the same time, however, Yeats also suggests that there is beauty to be found in this transience, as the cycles of growth and decay are an intrinsic part of the natural world.
"Under Saturn" is a remarkable work of poetry, rich in its use of literary devices and figurative language. One of the most striking features of the poem is its use of metaphor and symbolism to convey complex ideas and emotions.
In the opening lines of the poem, for example, Yeats uses the image of the boards nailed above the woman's face to suggest the finality of death, while the cypress trees symbolize mourning and loss. Similarly, the metaphor of the "heavenly mansion raging in the dark" suggests the futility of human achievement in the face of mortality, while the image of the "indifferent stars" conveys a sense of insignificance and transience.
The poem is also notable for its use of repetition and variation, as Yeats employs a range of linguistic techniques to create a sense of rhythm and musicality. The repeated use of the phrase "under Saturn" throughout the poem, for example, creates a sense of unity and coherence, while the variation in the structure and length of each stanza adds a sense of complexity and depth.
"Under Saturn" is a remarkable work of poetry, full of rich symbolism, complex themes, and striking imagery. Through its exploration of the themes of aging, mortality, and the transience of human existence, Yeats creates a powerful meditation on the human experience. At the same time, however, the poem also suggests that there is beauty to be found even in the face of mortality, as the cycles of growth and decay are an intrinsic part of the natural world. In this way, "Under Saturn" stands as a testament to the power of poetry to explore the deepest and most profound aspects of the human spirit.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Under Saturn: A Poem of Cosmic Despair and Human Longing
William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, known for his evocative and mystical verse that explores the depths of human experience and the mysteries of the universe. One of his most haunting and enigmatic works is the poem "Under Saturn," a meditation on the cyclical nature of life and death, the transience of human existence, and the longing for transcendence.
At its core, "Under Saturn" is a poem about the human condition, about the ways in which we are bound by time and fate, and about our yearning for something beyond the limitations of our mortal existence. The poem is structured around the image of Saturn, the Roman god of time and agriculture, who was associated with both the cycles of nature and the inevitability of death. Yeats uses this image to explore the themes of mortality, transience, and the search for meaning in a world that seems indifferent to our desires and aspirations.
The poem begins with a description of Saturn as a "cold, slow planet" that "rules the years, / Astronomical cycles, and crops." This image sets the tone for the rest of the poem, suggesting a world that is governed by impersonal forces beyond our control. Yeats goes on to describe the "sadness and wisdom" of Saturn, who "knows the end of all things" and "sees the futility of human striving." This sense of cosmic despair is a recurring theme in Yeats's work, reflecting his belief in the cyclical nature of history and the inevitability of decline and decay.
Yet despite this sense of futility, Yeats also suggests that there is something transcendent and eternal that lies beyond the limitations of time and space. He writes of "the soul's immortality" and the "eternal life" that lies beyond the "cold, slow planet" of Saturn. This sense of longing for something beyond the material world is a central theme in Yeats's poetry, reflecting his fascination with mysticism and the occult.
Throughout the poem, Yeats uses a variety of images and symbols to explore these themes of mortality and transcendence. He describes the "white stars" that "shine on the black hours" and the "moon's cold light" that "floods the earth." These images suggest a world that is both beautiful and indifferent, a world in which the forces of nature and the cycles of the cosmos are beyond our control.
Yet despite this sense of cosmic despair, Yeats also suggests that there is a way to transcend the limitations of our mortal existence. He writes of the "soul's journey" and the "mystic's ecstasy," suggesting that there is a way to connect with something beyond the material world. This sense of spiritual longing is a recurring theme in Yeats's work, reflecting his belief in the power of art and imagination to transcend the limitations of our everyday lives.
In conclusion, "Under Saturn" is a poem of cosmic despair and human longing, exploring the themes of mortality, transience, and the search for meaning in a world that seems indifferent to our desires and aspirations. Through its use of imagery and symbolism, the poem suggests that there is something transcendent and eternal that lies beyond the limitations of time and space, and that the human soul has the capacity to connect with this higher realm through the power of art and imagination. As such, "Under Saturn" is a powerful meditation on the human condition, and a testament to Yeats's enduring legacy as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.
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