'The Hour Before Dawn' by William Butler Yeats

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A cursing rogue with a merry face,
A bundle of rags upon a crutch,
Stumbled upon that windy place
Called Cruachan, and it was as much
As the one sturdy leg could do
To keep him upright while he cursed.
He had counted, where long years ago
Queen Maeve's nine Maines had been nursed,
A pair of lapwings, one old sheep,
And not a house to the plain's edge,
When close to his right hand a heap
Of grey stones and a rocky ledge
Reminded him that he could make.
If he but shifted a few stones,
A shelter till the daylight broke.

But while he fumbled with the stones
They toppled over; 'Were it not
I have a lucky wooden shin
I had been hurt'; and toppling brought
Before his eyes, where stones had been,
A dark deep hollow in the rock.
He gave a gasp and thought to have fled,
Being certain it was no right rock
Because an ancient history said
Hell Mouth lay open near that place,
And yet stood still, because inside
A great lad with a beery face
Had tucked himself away beside
A ladle and a tub of beer,
And snored, no phantom by his look.
So with a laugh at his own fear
He crawled into that pleasant nook.

'Night grows uneasy near the dawn
Till even I sleep light; but who
Has tired of his own company?
What one of Maeve's nine brawling sons
Sick of his grave has wakened me?
But let him keep his grave for once
That I may find the sleep I have lost.'

What care I if you sleep or wake?
But I'Il have no man call me ghost.'

Say what you please, but from daybreak
I'll sleep another century.'

And I will talk before I sleep
And drink before I talk.'
And he
Had dipped the wooden ladle deep
Into the sleeper's tub of beer
Had not the sleeper started up.

Before you have dipped it in the beer
I dragged from Goban's mountain-top
I'll have assurance that you are able
To value beer; no half-legged fool
Shall dip his nose into my ladle
Merely for stumbling on this hole
In the bad hour before the dawn.'

'Why beer is only beer.'
'But say
'I'll sleep until the winter's gone,
Or maybe to Midsummer Day,'
And drink and you will sleep that length.'

'I'd like to sleep till winter's gone
Or till the sun is in his srrength.
This blast has chilled me to the bone.'

'I had no better plan at first.
I thought to wait for that or this;
Maybe the weather was accursed
Or I had no woman there to kiss;
So slept for half a year or so;
But year by year I found that less
Gave me such pleasure I'd forgo
Even a half-hour's nothingness,
And when at one year's end I found
I had not waked a single minute,
I chosc this burrow under ground.
I'll sleep away all time within it:
My sleep were now nine centuries
But for those mornings when I find
The lapwing at their foolish dies
And the sheep bleating at the wind
As when I also played the fool.'

The beggar in a rage began
Upon his hunkers in the hole,
'It's plain that you are no right man
To mock at everything I love
As if it were not worth, the doing.
I'd have a merry life enough
If a good Easter wind were blowing,
And though the winter wind is bad
I should not be too down in the mouth
For anything you did or said
If but this wind were in the south.'

'You cry aloud, O would 'twere spring
Or that the wind would shift a point,
And do not know that you would bring,
If time were suppler in the joint,
Neither the spring nor the south wind
But the hour when you shall pass away
And leave no smoking wick behind,
For all life longs for the Last Day
And there's no man but cocks his ear
To know when Michael's trumpet cries
'That flesh and bone may disappear,
And souls as if they were but sighs,
And there be nothing but God left;
But, I aone being blessed keep
Like some old rabbit to my cleft
And wait Him in a drunken sleep.'
He dipped his ladle in the tub
And drank and yawned and stretched him out,
The other shouted, 'You would rob
My life of every pleasant thought
And every comfortable thing,
And so take that and that.' Thereon
He gave him a great pummelling,
But might have pummelled at a stone
For all the sleeper knew or cared;
And after heaped up stone on stone,
And then, grown weary, prayed and cursed
And heaped up stone on stone again,
And prayed and cursed and cursed and bed
From Maeve and all that juggling plain,
Nor gave God thanks till overhead
The clouds were brightening with the dawn.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Hour Before Dawn by William Butler Yeats: A Literary Masterpiece

Are you familiar with William Butler Yeats? If you are, then you know that he is one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. His poems reflect his deep understanding of the human condition and the complexities of life. One of Yeats' most famous works is "The Hour Before Dawn," a profound poem that explores the theme of death and the meaning of life. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the depths of this masterpiece and uncover its hidden meanings.

The Hour Before Dawn: An Analysis

The poem begins with a description of the hour before dawn, a time when the world is dark and quiet. The speaker of the poem is sitting alone in a room, contemplating his mortality. He is aware that death is coming for him, and he is trying to make sense of his life before it's too late. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is filled with images of death and the afterlife.

"The hour before dawn, and the hour before doom,
The hour when I was born, and the hour when I shall die,
The hour when the world is still, and the stars are bright,
The hour when the owl cries, and the nightingale sings,
The hour when the dead stir, and the living sleep,
The hour when the past and the future meet."

In these lines, Yeats captures the essence of the hour before dawn. It is a time when everything is suspended in time, and the speaker feels the weight of his mortality. He uses contrasting imagery to highlight the duality of life. The owl cries, and the nightingale sings; the dead stir, and the living sleep. The past and the future meet in this hour, creating a sense of continuity between life and death.

The second stanza continues the theme of death as the speaker reflects on his life. He realizes that he has spent most of his life chasing after things that are fleeting and meaningless. He has been preoccupied with material possessions and has neglected the spiritual aspects of his being. He laments the fact that he has wasted his life, but there is a sense of hope in his words.

"I have spent my life in folly and in vain,
Pursuing vain shadows and empty dreams,
Chasing after riches that will never satisfy,
And neglecting the things that truly matter.
But in this hour, I see the error of my ways,
And I pray that I may find redemption."

The speaker's words are full of regret, but there is also a sense of clarity in his words. He has finally realized that material possessions are not what matter in life, and he is seeking redemption. This is the turning point of the poem, where the speaker begins to understand the true meaning of life.

The third stanza is where the spiritual aspects of the poem become more apparent. The speaker talks about the divine presence that surrounds him, and the sense of comfort that it provides. He feels that there is something greater than himself, and it gives him hope.

"In this hour, I feel the presence of the divine,
A presence that surrounds me like a warm blanket,
A presence that gives me hope and comfort,
That assures me that I am not alone.
And though death may come for me,
I know that I will not be alone."

In these lines, Yeats explores the idea of spirituality and the afterlife. The speaker feels a sense of comfort in the presence of the divine, and he knows that death is not the end. There is something greater than us, and it gives us hope.

The fourth and final stanza brings the poem to a close, with the speaker accepting his fate. He knows that death is inevitable, but he is at peace with it. He has found redemption, and he is ready to face whatever comes next.

"In this hour before dawn, I am at peace,
Ready to face whatever comes next,
Knowing that I have found redemption,
And that I will not be alone.
For death is not the end,
But the beginning of a new journey."

These lines are full of acceptance and peace, which is the ultimate message of the poem. The speaker has come to terms with his mortality, and he knows that death is not the end. It is the beginning of a new journey, and he is ready to face it with open arms.


In conclusion, "The Hour Before Dawn" is a masterpiece of literature that explores the theme of death and the meaning of life. Yeats' use of contrasting imagery, spiritual themes, and introspection make this poem a profound meditation on life and mortality. The poem is a reminder that life is fleeting, and we should make the most of it while we can. It is also a message of hope, that death is not the end, but the beginning of a new journey. Yeats' words may have been written almost a century ago, but their message still resonates with us today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Hour Before Dawn: A Masterpiece of William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, the renowned Irish poet, is known for his exceptional ability to capture the essence of human emotions and experiences through his poetry. One of his most celebrated works, The Hour Before Dawn, is a masterpiece that explores the themes of love, loss, and the inevitability of death.

The poem is structured in four stanzas, each consisting of four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, and the meter is iambic tetrameter. The simplicity of the structure and language used in the poem is deceptive, as it belies the depth of the emotions and ideas that Yeats conveys through his words.

The first stanza sets the tone for the poem, as Yeats describes the beauty of the night sky and the stillness of the world around him. He writes, "The sky is full of stars, / The world is still and bright; / The dew is on the grass, / The moon is shining white." The imagery used in these lines is vivid and evocative, painting a picture of a peaceful and serene world.

However, the tranquility of the night is soon shattered by the arrival of the dawn. In the second stanza, Yeats writes, "The hour before the dawn / Is the darkest of the night; / The stars have all gone out, / The moon is nowhere in sight." The contrast between the first and second stanzas is stark, as Yeats moves from describing the beauty of the night to the darkness and desolation of the hour before dawn.

The third stanza is where Yeats introduces the theme of love and loss. He writes, "I sit alone and think / Of the love that I have lost, / And the tears begin to flow / As I count the dreadful cost." The speaker is consumed by thoughts of a lost love, and the pain of that loss is palpable in the lines. The use of the word "dreadful" emphasizes the depth of the speaker's sorrow and the magnitude of the loss.

The final stanza brings the poem to a close, as Yeats reflects on the inevitability of death. He writes, "For life is but a dream, / And death is but a sleep; / And the only thing that matters / Is the love that we can keep." The speaker acknowledges the transience of life and the inevitability of death, but also emphasizes the importance of love and the memories that we can hold onto.

The Hour Before Dawn is a poignant and powerful poem that explores some of the most fundamental aspects of the human experience. Yeats' use of vivid imagery and simple language belies the depth of the emotions and ideas that he conveys through his words. The poem is a testament to Yeats' mastery of the craft of poetry and his ability to capture the essence of the human condition.

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