'The Mountain Tomb' by William Butler Yeats

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Pour wine and dance if manhood still have pride,
Bring roses if the rose be yet in bloom;
The cataract smokes upon the mountain side,
Our Father Rosicross is in his tomb.

Pull down the blinds, bring fiddle and clarionet
That there be no foot silent in the room
Nor mouth from kissing, nor from wine unwet;
Our Father Rosicross is in his tomb.

In vain, in pain; the cataract still cries;
The everlasting taper lights the gloom;
All wisdom shut into his onyx eyes,
Our Father Rosicross sleeps in his tomb.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Mountain Tomb by William Butler Yeats: A Masterpiece of Symbolism and Metaphor

If you are a lover of poetry, you have probably heard of William Butler Yeats. He is a towering figure in the world of literature, known for his mastery of language and his ability to weave intricate and powerful narratives through his words. One of his most celebrated works is the poem "The Mountain Tomb," a piece that has captured the imaginations of readers for generations.

But what is it about this poem that makes it so special? What themes and ideas does Yeats explore, and how does he use symbolism and metaphor to convey his message? In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore these questions and more, delving deep into the heart of "The Mountain Tomb" to uncover the genius of Yeats' writing.

The Setting: A Place of Mystery and Magic

The first thing that strikes the reader about "The Mountain Tomb" is its setting. Yeats paints a vivid picture of a remote mountain range, shrouded in mist and mystery. The speaker describes the beauty of the landscape, with its "purple glow" and "cloud-capped towers," but there is also a sense of unease and danger lurking beneath the surface.

As we learn more about the mountain range, we discover that it is not just a natural wonder, but a place of deep significance and history. The speaker tells us that "The kings that were and will be / Gathered in the mountain fastness" and that "Here we have had our vantage-point / Of what shall pass beyond."

These lines suggest that the mountain range is a place of great power and importance, where the past, present, and future converge. It is a place where kings gather, where secrets are revealed, and where the boundaries between reality and fantasy blur.

This setting serves as the backdrop for the rest of the poem, providing a sense of mystery and magic that permeates every line. It is a perfect canvas on which Yeats can paint his themes and ideas, using the landscape to enhance the sense of wonder and awe that the poem evokes.

The Symbolism of the Mountain Tomb

The title of the poem, "The Mountain Tomb," immediately sets the tone for the piece. It suggests that there is something hidden and mysterious within the mountain, something that has been buried away for centuries.

As we read on, we discover that this tomb is not just a physical structure, but a symbol for something much deeper. The speaker tells us that "We who seven years ago / Talked of honour and of truth / Shriek with pleasure if we show / The weasel's twist, the weasel's tooth."

This line suggests that the tomb represents a kind of moral decay, a corruption of values that has taken hold of society. The people who once talked of honor and truth are now reduced to delighting in the suffering of others, finding pleasure in the most base and grotesque aspects of life.

As the poem progresses, we see this decay reflected in the landscape itself. The once-beautiful mountain range is now described as a "desolate land," where "the wind blows through our ears / The rustling of the silk."

This image of the wind blowing through the ears is particularly powerful, suggesting that the people have become deaf to the beauty of the world around them. They are so consumed by their own corruption that they are no longer able to appreciate the natural wonders that once captivated them.

The Metaphor of the Weasel

Throughout the poem, Yeats uses the image of the weasel to symbolize this moral decay. The weasel is a creature that is often associated with deceit and cunning, and its presence in the poem serves as a metaphor for the darker aspects of human nature.

The speaker tells us that "We who seven years ago / Talked of honour and of truth / Shriek with pleasure if we show / The weasel's twist, the weasel's tooth." Here, the weasel's twist and tooth are described as objects of pleasure, suggesting that the people are delighting in the darker aspects of their own nature.

Later in the poem, the speaker describes the weasel as "the master of massacre / By nature none dares smile." This line suggests that the weasel is a force of destruction, a creature that is capable of inflicting great harm without remorse.

But the weasel is not just a symbol of destruction; it is also a symbol of renewal. The speaker tells us that "Even the grave-diggers / That with wild laughter lift the coffins / And set them down again / Shake with the sobs of their own breath." Here, the grave-diggers are described as laughing wildly, suggesting that they too have succumbed to the corruption of the weasel. But their sobs suggest that there is still a glimmer of humanity within them, a sense of regret for the things that they have done.

This duality of the weasel - its capacity for both destruction and renewal - is a powerful metaphor for the human experience. We are all capable of great good and great evil, and it is up to us to choose which path we will take.

The Theme of Decay and Renewal

At its core, "The Mountain Tomb" is a poem about the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. It is a meditation on the impermanence of all things, and the inevitability of decay and renewal.

The poem is filled with images of death and decay, from the desolate landscape of the mountain range to the "wormy bed" in which the speaker lies. But even in the midst of this decay, there are moments of beauty and renewal.

The speaker tells us that "The worm that crawls through the blood / Runs through the veins of the world / And no one knows when he will die." This line suggests that even the lowliest creature is a part of the cycle of life and death, and that there is beauty to be found in even the darkest moments.

Later in the poem, the speaker describes a "golden bird" that is "singing in the palm." This image of the bird suggests that even in the midst of decay, there is a spark of beauty that can bring hope and renewal.

This theme of decay and renewal is particularly relevant in our modern world, where we are facing unprecedented challenges and uncertainties. "The Mountain Tomb" reminds us that even in the darkest moments, there is always the possibility of renewal and rebirth.


In "The Mountain Tomb," William Butler Yeats has crafted a masterpiece of symbolism and metaphor, a poem that explores deep themes of decay, renewal, and the human experience. Through his use of vivid imagery and powerful language, Yeats transports us to a world of mystery and magic, where the boundaries between reality and fantasy blur.

As we read this poem, we are reminded of the duality of the human experience - our capacity for both good and evil, our moments of joy and sorrow, and our ability to find renewal and hope even in the darkest moments. It is a poem that speaks to the very heart of what it means to be human, a work of art that will continue to inspire and captivate readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Mountain Tomb: A Masterpiece of William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, playwright, and politician, is widely regarded as one of the greatest literary figures of the 20th century. His works are known for their profound philosophical insights, lyrical beauty, and symbolic richness. Among his many masterpieces, "The Mountain Tomb" stands out as a haunting and enigmatic poem that captures the essence of Yeats's poetic vision.

"The Mountain Tomb" was first published in 1933, in Yeats's collection of poems, "The Winding Stair and Other Poems." The poem consists of three stanzas, each with four lines, and follows a strict rhyme scheme of ABAB. The language is simple and direct, but the imagery is complex and suggestive, inviting multiple interpretations.

The poem begins with a description of a mountain tomb, which is "carved like a cavern" and "roofed with bald stone." The tomb is situated in a desolate landscape, where "no living man" can be seen, and "the wind's footfall" is the only sound. The tomb is also surrounded by "a ring of cedars," which adds to its eerie and mystical atmosphere.

The second stanza introduces a mysterious figure, who is described as "a woman's beauty" and "a man's desire." This figure is said to have "lain there long," perhaps as a corpse or a statue, and to have "lost all that [it] had or known." The figure is also associated with "a flame," which suggests both passion and destruction.

The third stanza concludes the poem with a powerful image of transformation and transcendence. The figure in the tomb is said to have "risen at last" and to have "gone singing" into the "brightening air." The tomb itself is described as "a broken arch," which suggests both the fragility and the beauty of human existence. The poem ends with a paradoxical statement that the figure in the tomb is "dead and immortal," suggesting that death is not the end but a gateway to a higher state of being.

The poem's title, "The Mountain Tomb," is significant in several ways. First, it suggests a connection between the tomb and the mountain, which is a symbol of transcendence and spiritual elevation. Second, it implies a contrast between the tomb and the living world, which is associated with movement, growth, and change. Third, it evokes a sense of mystery and awe, as if the tomb is a portal to a hidden realm of secrets and wonders.

The poem's imagery is also rich in symbolic associations. The mountain tomb, for example, can be seen as a symbol of the human body, which is both a vessel and a prison for the soul. The cedars that surround the tomb can be seen as symbols of eternity and immortality, as they are evergreen and long-lived. The figure in the tomb, with its combination of male and female traits, can be seen as a symbol of the androgynous or transcendent self, which transcends gender and identity. The flame that is associated with the figure can be seen as a symbol of passion, creativity, and destruction, as fire can both illuminate and consume.

The poem's themes are also profound and universal. One of the main themes is the transience and fragility of human existence, which is contrasted with the enduring and majestic beauty of nature. The poem suggests that human life is fleeting and ephemeral, but that it can also be transformed and elevated through art, love, and spiritual awakening. Another theme is the paradoxical nature of death, which is both an end and a beginning, a loss and a gain. The poem suggests that death is not the end of life but a transition to a higher state of being, where the soul can be liberated from the limitations of the body and the ego.

In conclusion, "The Mountain Tomb" is a masterpiece of William Butler Yeats, which combines simplicity and complexity, beauty and mystery, and depth and universality. The poem invites multiple interpretations and associations, and resonates with readers of all ages and cultures. It is a testament to Yeats's poetic genius and his vision of life as a journey of transformation and transcendence.

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