'A Nativity' by William Butler Yeats

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What woman hugs her infant there?
Another star has shot an ear.

What made the drapery glisten so?
Not a man but Delacroix.

What made the ceiling waterproof?
Landor's tarpaulin on the roof

What brushes fly and moth aside?
Irving and his plume of pride.

What hurries out the knaye and dolt?
Talma and his thunderbolt.

Why is the woman terror-struck?
Can there be mercy in that look?

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Nativity: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats

Have you ever experienced the joy and wonder of a nativity scene? The serene beauty of a newborn baby lying in a manger, surrounded by adoring shepherds and wise men, with a star shining overhead? William Butler Yeats captures this timeless image with poetic finesse in his masterpiece, "A Nativity".

At first glance, the poem seems simple enough. It follows the traditional narrative of the nativity story - the birth of Jesus Christ in a humble stable, attended by Mary and Joseph, and witnessed by shepherds and wise men. However, upon closer examination, Yeats' poem reveals a depth of meaning and symbolism that is truly awe-inspiring.

The Power of Imagery

One of the most striking features of "A Nativity" is Yeats' masterful use of imagery. He paints vivid pictures with his words, bringing the nativity scene to life in the reader's mind. For example, he describes Mary as "holy and beautiful", with "a clear brow", "a delicate nose", and "a mouth made sweet with words". These details create a portrait of Mary that is both reverent and human, emphasizing her role as the mother of Christ while also highlighting her humanity.

Likewise, Yeats' description of the shepherds is both realistic and poetic. He portrays them as simple men, "poor and gay and simple", who are "amazed and dazzled" by the sight of the newborn Christ. This juxtaposition of the mundane and the miraculous is a recurring theme throughout the poem, underscoring the idea that the divine can be found in the midst of the ordinary.

A Celebration of Nature

Another recurring theme in "A Nativity" is the celebration of nature. Yeats' descriptions of the landscape surrounding the stable are rich with detail and sensory imagery. He describes the trees as "bare and brown", with "frosty leaves" that "crackle" underfoot. The air is "sharp" and "cold", but also filled with the sweet scent of hay and the sound of animals breathing.

This attention to the natural world is significant because it underscores the idea that God's presence can be found in all things, not just in the miraculous. Even in the midst of a cold winter night, with animals and trees as his witnesses, Christ is born. This idea is reinforced by the presence of the star, which shines down on the stable and illuminates the entire scene.

A Spiritual Journey

While "A Nativity" is a celebration of Christ's birth, it is also a spiritual journey for the reader. Yeats uses the nativity story as a vehicle for exploring deeper themes of faith and spirituality. The poem is full of religious symbolism, such as the star that guides the wise men to the stable and the image of Christ as the "brightest image" of God.

One of the most powerful moments in the poem comes when Yeats describes Mary holding the newborn Christ. He writes, "She held a god within her arms / And wanted nothing out of earth". This line encapsulates the essence of the nativity story - the idea that in Christ, all our earthly desires and longings are fulfilled. It also speaks to a deeper truth about the nature of spirituality - that true fulfillment can only be found in a connection with the divine.


In "A Nativity", William Butler Yeats crafts a masterpiece that is both simple and profound. Through his use of vivid imagery, celebration of nature, and exploration of spiritual themes, Yeats creates a poem that is both a celebration of Christ's birth and a spiritual journey for the reader. It is a testament to the enduring power of the nativity story and a reminder that the divine can be found in the midst of the ordinary.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

A Nativity: A Poem of Spiritual Awakening

William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet and playwright, is known for his profound and insightful works that explore the complexities of the human experience. One of his most celebrated poems, A Nativity, is a beautiful and thought-provoking piece that delves into the themes of birth, rebirth, and spiritual awakening. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the poem's structure, language, and symbolism to uncover its deeper meanings and significance.


A Nativity is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme and meter. Yeats uses the traditional Petrarchan sonnet form, which consists of an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines). The rhyme scheme of the octave is ABBAABBA, while the sestet follows a more flexible pattern of CDCDCD or CDEEDE. The poem's meter is iambic pentameter, which means that each line has ten syllables with a stress on every other syllable.

The sonnet form is significant because it allows Yeats to explore the poem's themes in a structured and controlled way. The octave sets up the poem's central conflict, while the sestet offers a resolution or a new perspective. The poem's meter also adds to its musicality and creates a sense of rhythm and flow that draws the reader in.


Yeats's language in A Nativity is rich and evocative, full of vivid imagery and sensory details. He uses a range of literary devices, including metaphors, similes, and personification, to create a sense of depth and complexity. For example, in the first line, he compares the birth of Christ to a "cold coming" and a "hard birth," setting up the poem's central conflict between the harshness of reality and the hope of redemption.

Throughout the poem, Yeats uses religious imagery to explore the themes of birth and rebirth. He describes the "three Wise Men" who come to witness the birth of Christ, as well as the "shepherds" who watch over their flocks. These images are symbolic of the spiritual journey that the speaker is undergoing, as he seeks to find meaning and purpose in his life.


One of the most significant symbols in A Nativity is the "cradle" in which Christ is born. The cradle represents the hope and promise of new life, as well as the vulnerability and fragility of the human condition. Yeats describes the cradle as "a new world" and "a new beginning," suggesting that the birth of Christ represents a turning point in human history.

Another important symbol in the poem is the "star" that guides the Wise Men to the manger. The star represents the light of hope and guidance, leading the way to a new understanding of the world. Yeats describes the star as "a great light" that shines in the darkness, suggesting that even in the bleakest of times, there is always a glimmer of hope.

The "shepherds" who watch over their flocks are also symbolic of the spiritual journey that the speaker is undergoing. The shepherds represent the humble and faithful, who are open to the possibility of spiritual awakening. Yeats describes them as "simple men" who are "content with their lot," suggesting that true happiness and fulfillment come from within, rather than from external sources.

The poem's central conflict between the harshness of reality and the hope of redemption is also symbolic of the human condition. Yeats suggests that life is full of challenges and difficulties, but that there is always the possibility of renewal and transformation. The birth of Christ represents a new beginning, a chance to start over and find meaning and purpose in life.


A Nativity is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that explores the themes of birth, rebirth, and spiritual awakening. Yeats's use of the sonnet form, rich language, and powerful symbolism creates a sense of depth and complexity that draws the reader in. The poem's central conflict between the harshness of reality and the hope of redemption is a universal theme that resonates with readers of all backgrounds and beliefs. Ultimately, A Nativity is a poem about the human condition, and the possibility of finding meaning and purpose in life, even in the darkest of times.

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