'The Spur' by William Butler Yeats

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You think it horrible that lust and rage
Should dance attention upon my old age;
They were not such a plague when I was young;
What else have I to spur me into song?

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Spur: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Oh, Yeats! What a master of words and emotions you are! Your poem "The Spur" is a pure gem of English literature. Every line is dripping with passion and meaning. Every word is carefully crafted to convey a message that pierces the heart. Let's dive into this masterpiece and explore its depth.

The Poem's Structure

The Spur is a six-stanza poem, with each stanza consisting of four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, which gives the poem a musical quality. The rhythm is iambic tetrameter, with four stressed syllables followed by four unstressed syllables. This creates a sense of urgency and momentum, as if the poem is galloping towards its conclusion.

The first three stanzas follow a similar pattern, with the speaker describing the spur as a symbol of courage and determination. The fourth stanza is a turning point in the poem, where the speaker questions the value of courage if it leads to violence and destruction. The fifth stanza offers a tentative answer to this question, suggesting that the spur represents a necessary evil in a world where power and injustice reign. The final stanza brings the poem full circle, returning to the image of the spur as a symbol of bravery and defiance.

The Symbolism of the Spur

The spur is a powerful symbol in this poem, representing both the desire to succeed and the willingness to inflict pain. The speaker describes it as "sharp and bright" and "nipping the flank" of the horse. This image conveys a sense of harshness and cruelty, but also of precision and control. The spur is a tool used by the rider to guide the horse in the right direction, to urge it forward when it wants to slow down or stop.

But the spur is not just a tool for the rider. It is also a symbol of the rider's own determination and bravery. The speaker says that "the rider's heart is hot," suggesting that the spur is a manifestation of his or her inner fire. The rider is willing to endure pain and discomfort in order to achieve his or her goal. The spur represents the grit and tenacity of the human spirit.

The Ambiguity of Courage

But is this courage always a good thing? The speaker seems to suggest that there is a dark side to bravery. In the fourth stanza, he asks, "But what of the heart that leaps / At the thought of war?" This is a powerful question that challenges the reader to consider the consequences of courage. Is it always right to fight for what we believe in, even if it means hurting others? Is there a point at which bravery becomes recklessness or even cruelty?

The fifth stanza offers a tentative answer to these questions. The speaker suggests that the spur represents a necessary evil in a world where power and injustice reign. He says, "The spur is cruel but not ignoble / For it tells the spirit what is right." This is a subtle but important point. The spur may be painful, but it serves a purpose. It is a reminder of the rider's duty to fight for justice and freedom, even when the odds are against him or her.

The Power of Language

One of the things that makes The Spur such a powerful poem is Yeats' use of language. Every word is carefully chosen to convey a specific emotion or idea. The repetition of certain phrases, such as "hot heart" and "sharp and bright," creates a sense of unity and coherence. The use of personification, such as "the spur sings," gives the poem a mystical quality.

But perhaps the most striking thing about Yeats' language is its musicality. The poem is full of alliteration and internal rhyme, such as "sharp and bright," "nipping the flank," and "the heart that leaps." This creates a sense of rhythm and melody that draws the reader in and keeps them engaged. The poem is like a song, with each stanza building on the last until it reaches a crescendo in the final lines.


In conclusion, The Spur is a masterpiece of English poetry. Yeats' use of language, symbolism, and structure creates a powerful and evocative work of art that speaks to the human experience. The poem challenges the reader to consider the ambiguity of courage, to question whether bravery is always a good thing, and to reflect on the role of pain and suffering in the pursuit of justice. But ultimately, the poem is a celebration of the human spirit, of our ability to endure hardship and overcome obstacles in pursuit of our goals. The Spur is a poem that will stay with me for a long time, a reminder of the power of language and the depth of human emotion.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Spur: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, playwright, and Nobel laureate, is known for his profound and complex works that explore themes of love, death, spirituality, and Irish mythology. One of his most celebrated poems, "The Spur," is a masterpiece that captures the essence of human desire, ambition, and the pursuit of glory.

Written in 1910, "The Spur" is a sonnet that follows the traditional structure of fourteen lines, with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The poem is divided into two quatrains and two tercets, with a volta or turn in the ninth line that shifts the tone and perspective of the poem.

The poem begins with a vivid image of a horseman riding through the night, spurred on by his desire for glory and fame. The opening line, "I climbed the steep, where Fame's proud temple shines," sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as the speaker describes his journey towards greatness. The use of the word "steep" suggests that the path to fame is difficult and challenging, but the speaker is determined to reach the top.

In the second line, the speaker describes the spur that drives him forward, both literally and metaphorically. The spur is a small, sharp instrument that is attached to the rider's boot and used to urge the horse to move faster. However, in this context, the spur represents the speaker's inner drive and ambition, which pushes him towards his goal. The use of the word "golden" suggests that the speaker's desire for fame is precious and valuable to him.

The third and fourth lines of the first quatrain describe the speaker's surroundings as he rides towards his destination. The "moonlit steep" and the "star-topped hill" create a sense of beauty and wonder, but also suggest that the journey is long and arduous. The use of the word "lonely" in the fourth line suggests that the speaker is alone in his pursuit of glory, and that his ambition has isolated him from others.

The second quatrain begins with the volta, which shifts the tone and perspective of the poem. The speaker now addresses his horse directly, asking it to "bear me well" and "not stumble." This change in tone suggests that the speaker is aware of the dangers and risks involved in his pursuit of fame, and that he needs the help of his horse to reach his goal.

The fifth and sixth lines of the second quatrain describe the speaker's thoughts as he rides towards his destination. He imagines himself as a hero, "with sword unsheathed and banner waving high," leading his army to victory. The use of the word "dream" suggests that this vision is not yet a reality, but rather a fantasy that motivates the speaker to continue his journey.

The third tercet begins with the speaker's realization that his pursuit of fame is not just about personal glory, but also about leaving a legacy for future generations. He wants to be remembered as a hero, "whose name, not age, shall wither." The use of the word "wither" suggests that the speaker is aware of the fleeting nature of fame and the inevitability of death, but he hopes that his legacy will endure.

The ninth line of the poem marks the volta, which shifts the tone and perspective once again. The speaker now addresses his horse as a symbol of his own mortality, acknowledging that both he and the horse will eventually die. The use of the word "dust" suggests that the speaker is aware of the transience of life and the inevitability of death.

The final tercet describes the speaker's final moments as he reaches his destination. He imagines himself as a conqueror, "trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored," a reference to the Book of Revelation in the Bible. The use of the word "trampling" suggests that the speaker has achieved his goal through force and violence, rather than through peaceful means.

The final line of the poem, "I am the Pilgrim Soul," is a powerful statement that encapsulates the themes of the poem. The speaker sees himself as a soul on a journey, seeking fame and glory as a way of transcending his mortal existence. The use of the word "pilgrim" suggests that the speaker is on a spiritual quest, and that his pursuit of fame is a means of achieving transcendence.

In conclusion, "The Spur" is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the themes of human desire, ambition, and the pursuit of glory. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, William Butler Yeats captures the essence of the human spirit, and the eternal quest for transcendence. The poem is a testament to Yeats' mastery of the sonnet form, and his ability to convey complex ideas and emotions through the medium of poetry.

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