'To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing' by William Butler Yeats
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Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honour bred, with one
Who, were it proved he lies,
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbours' eyes?
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.
Editor 1 Interpretation
To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing: A Masterpiece of Despair
Have you ever felt like all your efforts have gone in vain? That you have been working so hard on something, only to see it crumble in front of your eyes? If you have, then you can relate to William Butler Yeats' poem, "To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing." In this masterpiece of despair, Yeats captures the pain and frustration of unfulfilled dreams, lost hopes, and wasted efforts.
The Poem: An Overview
Before we dive deep into the poem, let's first take a look at its structure and poetic devices. "To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing" is a four-stanza poem, with each stanza consisting of six lines. The rhyme scheme is ABABCC, and the meter is iambic pentameter. The poem employs several poetic devices, including imagery, personification, and metaphor.
The First Stanza: A Prelude of Sorrow
The first stanza sets the tone for the entire poem, with Yeats expressing deep sympathy and sadness for his friend. The opening lines, "Now all the truth is out, / Be secret and take defeat / From any brazen throat, / For how can you compete," immediately establish the theme of defeat and the idea that the truth has been revealed. Yeats advises his friend to keep his defeat a secret and accept it gracefully, as it would be pointless to compete with those who have no regard for the truth.
The second and third lines of the stanza, "Being honour bred, have bred / A liking for humility," indicate that Yeats' friend is a man of honor and has a liking for humility. This further reinforces the idea that his friend is accepting defeat with grace and dignity. The last three lines of the stanza, "And when Time declares decay / And Imagination''s done, / In the heart of men / Spring will flower anew," suggest that even though the friend's work has come to nothing, it will not be forgotten. The heart of men will remember it, and it will blossom again in the future.
The Second Stanza: A Moment of Reflection
The second stanza is a moment of reflection, where Yeats' friend looks back at his efforts and wonders if they were all in vain. The opening lines, "Murmur, a little sadly, / How Love fled / And paced upon the mountains / overhead," suggest that the friend is reflecting on his lost love and how it has left him feeling empty and alone. The reference to the mountains overhead is symbolic of how the friend's love has become an unattainable goal.
The third and fourth lines of the stanza, "And hid his face amid a crowd of stars," are an example of personification, where love is given human-like qualities of hiding and being among the stars. The last two lines of the stanza, "Above the harried strifes, / And heard the weeping of the wind," suggest that love is above the struggles of life and can hear the sorrowful cries of the wind.
The Third Stanza: A Cry of Despair
The third stanza is the climax of the poem, where Yeats' friend expresses his despair and frustration at his unfulfilled dreams. The opening lines, "Though leaves are many, the root is one; / Through all the lying days of my youth / I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun," indicate that the friend has been working hard on his dreams since his youth, but they have all come to nothing.
The third and fourth lines of the stanza, "Now I may wither into the truth / About the right of things," suggest that the friend has come to the realization that his dreams were not meant to be, and he must accept the truth. The last two lines of the stanza, "So be it, for in darkness shows us only starry hosts above," are a moment of acceptance, where the friend acknowledges that even in darkness, there is still hope and light.
The Fourth Stanza: A Message of Hope
The fourth stanza is a message of hope, where Yeats reassures his friend that his efforts were not in vain and that his work will live on. The opening lines, "The voice that is great within us / Utters not until He summon forth," suggest that greatness comes from within, and it is only revealed when called upon by a higher power.
The third and fourth lines of the stanza, "And love is not love until it is past," suggest that love is only truly appreciated when it is gone. The last two lines of the stanza, "It is a dream that flutters by, / But in the heart that dream shall never die," suggest that even though dreams may fade away, they will live on in the hearts of those who cherish them.
Interpretation: A Masterpiece of Despair
"To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing" is a masterpiece of despair, where Yeats captures the pain and frustration of unfulfilled dreams, lost hopes, and wasted efforts. The poem is a reflection on the human condition, where we strive for greatness, only to be met with defeat and disappointment. However, it is also a message of hope, where Yeats reassures his friend that his efforts were not in vain and that his work will live on.
The poem's structure and poetic devices, including imagery, personification, and metaphor, add depth and richness to its themes. The use of iambic pentameter and the ABABCC rhyme scheme give the poem a musical quality that adds to its emotional impact.
Overall, "To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing" is a powerful and moving poem that speaks to the human experience. It is a reminder that even though our efforts may seem futile at times, they will not be forgotten and will live on in the hearts of those who cherish them.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing: A Masterpiece of Yeatsian Poetry
William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, playwright, and Nobel laureate, is known for his profound and evocative poetry that explores the themes of love, loss, death, and the human condition. One of his most celebrated poems, "To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing," is a poignant and powerful meditation on the nature of artistic creation, the futility of human endeavor, and the enduring value of friendship.
The poem, which was first published in 1914, consists of three stanzas of six lines each, and follows a simple ABABCC rhyme scheme. The language is simple and direct, yet the imagery and symbolism are rich and complex, creating a sense of depth and resonance that lingers long after the poem has been read.
The first stanza sets the tone for the poem, as Yeats addresses his friend with a sense of empathy and compassion:
"Now all the truth is out, Be secret and take defeat From any brazen throat, For how can you compete, Being honor bred, with one Who, were it proved he lies, Were neither shamed in his own Nor in his neighbors' eyes?"
Here, Yeats acknowledges the pain and disappointment that his friend must be feeling, as he sees his work come to nothing. He urges his friend to keep his disappointment to himself, and to accept defeat with grace and dignity. He also suggests that his friend's sense of honor and integrity puts him at a disadvantage in a world where lies and deceit are often rewarded.
The second stanza deepens the theme of artistic creation and the struggle for recognition:
"Bred to a harder thing Than Triumph, turn away And like a laughing string Whereon mad fingers play Amid a place of stone, Be secret and exult, Because of all things known That is most difficult."
Here, Yeats suggests that his friend's artistic calling is a "harder thing" than mere triumph or success. He encourages him to turn away from the world's standards of success and to find joy in the act of creation itself, even if it is in a place of stone, where his work may never be seen or appreciated. Yeats also suggests that the act of creation is itself a triumph, and that his friend should take pride in the fact that he has attempted something that is "most difficult."
The final stanza brings the poem to a powerful and moving conclusion:
"Is this that great Achilles, This that unforgotten brave? Or Hector with his shield, Or wandering Odysseus— This man like a handful of dust? This man bestride the mountains, This man upon the clouds, His drenched eye full of love and pain, Yearning toward that same white desire, While the not-aryan nations Yet burned amid the grape."
Here, Yeats draws on the imagery and symbolism of classical mythology to suggest that his friend's work, though it may seem insignificant and forgotten, is in fact a heroic and noble endeavor. He compares his friend to the great heroes of ancient Greece, and suggests that his work, though it may be like a "handful of dust," is as important and enduring as the mountains and the clouds. Yeats also suggests that his friend's work is a testament to the enduring power of love and desire, even in a world that is torn apart by war and conflict.
In conclusion, "To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing" is a masterpiece of Yeatsian poetry, a powerful and moving meditation on the nature of artistic creation, the futility of human endeavor, and the enduring value of friendship. Through its rich imagery and symbolism, the poem speaks to the human condition in a way that is both timeless and universal, reminding us of the importance of perseverance, integrity, and love in the face of adversity. As such, it remains a testament to Yeats's enduring legacy as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.
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