'Two Songs From A Play' by William Butler Yeats
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I saw a staring virgin stand
Where holy Dionysus died,
And tear the heart out of his side.
And lay the heart upon her hand
And bear that beating heart away;
Of Magnus Annus at the spring,
As though God's death were but a play.
Another Troy must rise and set,
Another lineage feed the crow,
Another Argo's painted prow
Drive to a flashier bauble yet.
The Roman Empire stood appalled:
It dropped the reins of peace and war
When that fierce virgin and her Star
Out of the fabulous darkness called.
In pity for man's darkening thought
He walked that room and issued thence
In Galilean turbulence;
The Babylonian starlight brought
A fabulous, formless darkness in;
Odour of blood when Christ was slain
Made all platonic tolerance vain
And vain all Doric discipline.
Everything that man esteems
Endures a moment or a day.
Love's pleasure drives his love away,
The painter's brush consumes his dreams;
The herald's cry, the soldier's tread
Exhaust his glory and his might:
Whatever flames upon the night
Man's own resinous heart has fed.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Two Songs From A Play by William Butler Yeats: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation
Oh, dear reader, have you ever come across a poem that resonates so deeply within you that you are left in a state of awe and wonder? That is exactly how I felt when I first read Two Songs From A Play by William Butler Yeats. This classic poem is a testament to Yeats' poetic genius and his ability to evoke powerful emotions through his words. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will delve deeper into this masterpiece and explore its meaning and significance.
Two Songs From A Play was written by Yeats in 1919 as part of his play, The Golden Helmet. The play itself was never completed or performed, but the two songs that Yeats wrote for it have become widely popular as standalone pieces. The poem consists of two parts, each with its own distinct narrative and message.
Part One: The Song of Wandering Aengus
The Song of Wandering Aengus is the first part of the poem and is arguably the more famous of the two. It tells the story of Aengus, a mythical figure from Irish folklore who is on a quest to find his true love. The poem evokes a sense of longing and yearning, as Aengus travels through the mystical landscape in search of his beloved.
The poem opens with the line, "I went out to the hazel wood, because a fire was in my head." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem and suggests that Aengus is driven by an intense passion or desire. The hazel wood is a symbol of the mystical realm that Aengus inhabits, and the fire in his head represents his burning desire to find his true love.
As Aengus wanders through the forest, he comes across a beautiful young woman who is "picking spangles from the moon." This image is both surreal and enchanting, and it captures the sense of magic and wonder that permeates the poem. Aengus is immediately captivated by the woman and asks her to be his lover. She agrees, but only on the condition that Aengus can find her again.
The rest of the poem describes Aengus' relentless quest to find his true love. He travels far and wide, through forests and over mountains, never giving up hope that he will find her. The final lines of the poem are particularly poignant:
"And when white moths were on the wing, And moth-like stars were flickering out, I dropped the berry in a stream And caught a little silver trout."
These lines suggest that Aengus has finally found his true love, but in a different form than he expected. The silver trout is a metaphor for the woman he has been searching for, and the act of catching it represents his victory in finding her. The image of the moths and stars adds a sense of magic and enchantment to the poem, leaving the reader with a sense of wonder and awe.
Part Two: The Song of the Old Mother
The Song of the Old Mother is the second part of the poem and is a stark contrast to the first. It tells the story of an old woman who is reflecting on her life and the sacrifices she has made. The poem is a lament for the loss of youth and vitality, and it evokes a sense of sadness and resignation.
The poem opens with the lines, "Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow;" These lines suggest that the old woman is waiting for something, perhaps a spark of life or vitality, to return to her. As the poem progresses, she reflects on her life and the sacrifices she has made for her family. She has given up her youth and beauty to care for her children and now feels forgotten and ignored.
The final lines of the poem are particularly powerful:
"But I must gather knots of flowers, And buds and garlands gay, For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May."
These lines suggest that even in her old age, the woman still has a sense of pride and dignity. She may have lost her youth and vitality, but she still has a sense of purpose and meaning. The image of the garlands and flowers adds a sense of beauty and vitality to the poem, and the repetition of the phrase "I'm to be Queen o' the May" leaves the reader with a sense of hope and optimism.
Two Songs From A Play is a complex and multi-layered poem that explores themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. The first part of the poem, The Song of Wandering Aengus, is a powerful evocation of the human desire for love and connection. Aengus' relentless quest for his true love is a metaphor for the human search for meaning and purpose in life. The final image of the silver trout represents the victory of love over the forces of darkness and despair.
The second part of the poem, The Song of the Old Mother, is a poignant lament for the loss of youth and vitality. The old woman's reflections on her life and the sacrifices she has made are a reminder of the fragility of human existence. However, the final image of the garlands and flowers suggests that even in old age, there is still beauty and vitality to be found in life.
Overall, Two Songs From A Play is a masterpiece of poetic expression and emotional depth. Yeats' use of imagery and symbolism creates a rich and vivid world that is both enchanting and haunting. The poem is a testament to the power of human emotions and the human spirit, and it remains a timeless classic of English literature.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Two Songs From A Play: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. His works are known for their depth, beauty, and complexity. Among his many works, Two Songs From A Play stands out as a masterpiece that captures the essence of Yeats' poetic genius.
The poem consists of two songs that were originally written for a play called "The Countess Cathleen." The play is based on an Irish legend about a noblewoman who sells her soul to the devil to save her starving people. The songs are sung by two characters in the play, the Devil and the Angel, who represent the forces of evil and good respectively.
The first song, sung by the Devil, is a haunting and seductive piece that lures the Countess into making a deal with him. The second song, sung by the Angel, is a beautiful and uplifting piece that encourages the Countess to resist the Devil's temptation and do what is right.
The two songs are a perfect example of Yeats' ability to use language to evoke powerful emotions and convey complex ideas. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbolism in the two songs and how they contribute to the overall meaning of the poem.
The Devil's Song
The Devil's song is a masterpiece of seduction. It is a dark and eerie piece that draws the listener in with its hypnotic rhythm and haunting melody. The song is full of imagery that evokes a sense of danger and temptation.
The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the song:
We who are old, old and gay, O so old! Thousands of years, thousands of years, If all were told: Give to these children, new from the world, Silence and love; And the long dew-dropping hours of the night, And the stars above:
The Devil is addressing the Countess, tempting her with the idea of eternal youth and pleasure. He speaks of the thousands of years he has lived and the wisdom he has gained. He offers the children of the world silence and love, and the beauty of the night sky.
The second stanza is even more seductive:
Give hands, give lips, give eyes to those Who wept dumbly at the doors And mention names in the prayers of And mournings of the floors;
Here, the Devil offers the Countess the power to heal the suffering of others. He promises to give hands, lips, and eyes to those who have been denied them. He speaks of the prayers and mournings of the floors, suggesting that the Countess can become a savior to those who are suffering.
The third stanza is the most chilling:
Take from me the weight and the terror Take from me the weight and the terror Take from me the weight and the terror And when you have done this The death of Cathleen ni Houlihan Will mean what the peasants meant When they cried out and cursed And ran from the door.
Here, the Devil reveals his true intentions. He wants the Countess to take on the weight and terror of the world, to become a savior to the suffering. But in doing so, she will lose her own soul and become a slave to the Devil's will. The reference to the death of Cathleen ni Houlihan is a reminder of the legend on which the play is based. The peasants in the legend cursed Cathleen for selling her soul to the Devil, and the Devil is suggesting that the same fate will befall the Countess if she makes the same choice.
The Angel's Song
The Angel's song is a stark contrast to the Devil's. It is a beautiful and uplifting piece that encourages the Countess to do what is right. The song is full of imagery that evokes a sense of hope and inspiration.
The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the song:
Pardon, old fathers, if you still remain Somewhere in ear-shot for the story's end, Old Dublin merchant "freezes" on the frame, Rosy nude models laughing on the stair, And singing young soldiers and all young men What murmurings of romantic name?
The Angel is addressing the old fathers, asking for their forgiveness for what is about to happen. He speaks of the frozen merchant, the nude models, and the singing soldiers, suggesting that the world is full of distractions and temptations. He asks what murmurings of romantic name can be heard in such a world.
The second stanza is a call to action:
Learn that weeping twisteth snarled cords Too tightly to unloose, And that mourning is no fitful sword To sever beauty and youth from those Whose hearts are not yet grown old.
Here, the Angel is encouraging the Countess to resist the temptation of the Devil. He speaks of the dangers of weeping and mourning, suggesting that they can trap us in a cycle of despair. He encourages the Countess to hold on to her beauty and youth, and to keep her heart young.
The third stanza is a reminder of the power of love:
Love's bitter mystery Who breathes must suffer, and who thinks must mourn, And who conceives must travail to bring forth. But we that have conceived The secret of life, we know that love endures, And though we wearied of the world's long strife And our own hearts, that nothing can renew, Still are we glad to live, and glad to give.
Here, the Angel speaks of the bitter mystery of love, and how it can cause us to suffer and mourn. But he also reminds us that love endures, and that it is worth the struggle. He encourages the Countess to keep her heart open to love, and to be glad to live and give.
Two Songs From A Play is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the essence of William Butler Yeats' genius. The two songs, sung by the Devil and the Angel, represent the forces of evil and good respectively. The Devil's song is a haunting and seductive piece that lures the Countess into making a deal with him. The Angel's song is a beautiful and uplifting piece that encourages the Countess to resist the Devil's temptation and do what is right.
The themes, imagery, and symbolism in the two songs are complex and multi-layered. The Devil's song speaks of the temptation of eternal youth and pleasure, the power to heal the suffering of others, and the weight and terror of the world. The Angel's song speaks of the dangers of weeping and mourning, the power of love, and the importance of keeping our hearts young.
Overall, Two Songs From A Play is a masterpiece of poetry that speaks to the human condition. It reminds us of the eternal struggle between good and evil, and the importance of choosing the right path. It is a testament to Yeats' poetic genius, and a work that will continue to inspire and move readers for generations to come.
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