'The Spirit Medium' by William Butler Yeats

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Poetry, music, I have loved, and yet
Because of those new dead
That come into my soul and escape
Confusion of the bed,
Or those begotten or unbegotten
Perning in a band,
I bend my body to the spade
Or grope with a dirty hand.

Or those begotten or unbegotten,
For I would not recall
Some that being unbegotten
Are not individual,
But copy some one action,
Moulding it of dust or sand,
I bend my body to the spade
Or grope with a dirty hand.

An old ghost's thoughts are lightning,
To follow is to die;
Poetry and music I have banished,
But the stupidity
Of root, shoot, blossom or clay
Makes no demand.
I bend my body to the spade
Or grope with a dirty hand.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Spirit Medium: A Deep Dive into Yeats' Poem

As a literary critic, I have the privilege of delving into the intricate layers of William Butler Yeats' "The Spirit Medium." This classic poem has stood the test of time, captivating readers with its hauntingly beautiful language and enigmatic themes.

The Poem's Context

Before we dive into the poem's interpretation, let's take a moment to understand its context. Yeats was a leading figure of the Irish Literary Revival, a movement that sought to revive and celebrate Irish culture and identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The poet was deeply interested in mysticism, the occult, and the supernatural, and his works often reflect these themes.

"The Spirit Medium" was first published in 1899 in the book "The Wind Among the Reeds." The poem tells the story of a woman who claims to be able to communicate with spirits and the skepticism and fear that her abilities elicit from those around her.

The Poem's Structure and Language

At first glance, "The Spirit Medium" seems to be a simple narrative poem. It is divided into six stanzas, each containing four lines. However, a closer look reveals that the poem is far from straightforward. Yeats uses rich and evocative language to create a sense of mystery and ambiguity that leaves the reader with more questions than answers.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of repetition. The phrase "We dare not look" is repeated multiple times throughout the poem, creating a sense of unease and dread. The repetition also serves to highlight the fear and skepticism that the spirit medium's abilities elicit from those around her.

Yeats also employs vivid imagery to paint a picture of the spirit medium and her surroundings. The opening lines of the poem describe the medium as "pale as the drifting mist" and "wild as the rushing wind." These images convey a sense of otherworldliness and suggest that the medium's abilities may not be of this world.

The Poem's Themes and Interpretation

Now, let's dive into the heart of the poem and explore its themes and interpretations. At its core, "The Spirit Medium" is a meditation on the nature of belief and skepticism. The poem presents two opposing worldviews: that of the spirit medium, who claims to be able to communicate with the dead, and that of the skeptical onlookers, who are afraid of what they cannot understand.

The medium's abilities are presented in a fantastical and otherworldly manner. She is described as being able to "call to the hidden dead" and "hear the voices that we cannot hear." However, the poem does not explicitly state whether or not the medium's abilities are real. Instead, Yeats leaves it up to the reader to decide.

On one hand, the medium's abilities could be interpreted as a metaphor for the power of belief. The medium is able to connect with the dead because she believes in their existence and is open to their communication. This interpretation suggests that belief can be a powerful force that allows us to connect with things beyond the physical world.

On the other hand, the medium's abilities could be seen as a critique of blind faith. The poem suggests that skepticism and rationality are important tools in understanding the world around us. The repeated phrase "We dare not look" emphasizes the fear and ignorance that can arise when we refuse to question our beliefs.

The poem also touches on the theme of mortality. The medium's ability to communicate with the dead implies that death is not the end and that there may be a continuation of consciousness after physical death. This idea is further reinforced by the imagery of mist and wind, which suggest a sense of transience and impermanence.


In conclusion, "The Spirit Medium" is a timeless poem that continues to captivate readers with its enigmatic themes and hauntingly beautiful language. Yeats presents us with a meditation on the nature of belief and skepticism, and invites us to question our assumptions and explore the mysteries of the world around us.

Whether we choose to interpret the medium's abilities as a metaphor for the power of belief or a critique of blind faith, the poem encourages us to remain open-minded and curious in our exploration of the world. As Yeats writes, "We dare not look, lest we should find / A life-long friend, or maybe a mind / That is better than our own mind."

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Spirit Medium: A Poem of Mysticism and the Occult

William Butler Yeats, the renowned Irish poet, is known for his fascination with mysticism and the occult. His poem, The Spirit Medium, is a prime example of his interest in these subjects. The poem is a haunting and enigmatic piece that explores the themes of death, the afterlife, and the supernatural.

The Spirit Medium is a narrative poem that tells the story of a woman who is a medium, someone who can communicate with the dead. The poem begins with the woman sitting in a dark room, waiting for the spirits to come to her. She is described as being "pale and strange," with "eyes that gleam like fire." The woman is clearly a mysterious and otherworldly figure, and the reader is immediately drawn into her world.

As the poem progresses, the woman begins to communicate with the spirits. Yeats uses vivid and evocative language to describe the spirits, who are depicted as being both beautiful and terrifying. The spirits are described as having "eyes like stars," and their voices are said to be "like the sound of the sea." However, they are also described as being "cold and cruel," and their presence is felt as a "chill wind" in the room.

The woman continues to communicate with the spirits, and they reveal to her the secrets of the afterlife. They tell her that death is not the end, but rather a transition to a new state of being. They also reveal that there are different levels of existence in the afterlife, and that some souls are trapped in a state of limbo, unable to move on to the next level.

The poem reaches its climax when the woman is possessed by one of the spirits. Yeats describes this possession in vivid detail, using language that is both beautiful and disturbing. The woman's body is described as being "like a flame," and her voice is said to be "like the voice of a god." However, the possession is also depicted as being violent and terrifying, with the woman's body convulsing and her eyes rolling back in her head.

The poem ends with the woman coming out of the possession, and the spirits departing from the room. The woman is left alone, with only the memory of the experience to comfort her. Yeats leaves the reader with a sense of mystery and wonder, as the true nature of the spirits and the afterlife remains shrouded in secrecy.

The Spirit Medium is a poem that is rich in symbolism and imagery. The woman is a symbol of the medium, someone who is able to bridge the gap between the living and the dead. The spirits are a symbol of the afterlife, and the different levels of existence that exist beyond death. The possession is a symbol of the power of the spirits, and their ability to control and manipulate the living.

The poem is also steeped in the language of mysticism and the occult. Yeats uses words and phrases that are associated with these subjects, such as "astral plane," "spiritual realm," and "the veil." These words add to the sense of mystery and intrigue that permeates the poem, and they help to create a sense of otherworldliness that is central to its themes.

In conclusion, The Spirit Medium is a poem that is both haunting and beautiful. It explores the themes of death, the afterlife, and the supernatural, and it does so in a way that is both evocative and mysterious. Yeats' use of symbolism and imagery, as well as his mastery of language, make this poem a true masterpiece of mysticism and the occult.

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