'The Balloon Of The Mind' by William Butler Yeats

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Hands, do what you're bid:
Bring the balloon of the mind
That bellies and drags in the wind
Into its narrow shed.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Balloon of the Mind: A Journey Through Yeats' Complex Mind

As a literary work, poetry is often subject to various analyses and interpretations. While some poems present straightforward messages, others require keen observation and critical thinking to unravel their true meanings. One such poem is "The Balloon of the Mind" by William Butler Yeats. Yeats, an Irish poet, playwright, and Nobel laureate, is famous for his complex and symbolic poetry that explores themes of history, mythology, and spirituality. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore Yeats' "The Balloon of the Mind" and delve into the poem's structure, imagery, and themes.

A Brief Overview of the Poem

"The Balloon of the Mind" is a short poem consisting of four stanzas, each containing four lines. The poem was first published in Yeats' "The Winding Stair and Other Poems" in 1933. The title "The Balloon of the Mind" is a metaphor that represents the human imagination as a balloon that can rise above the mundane and reach for the transcendent. The poem's structure and language are simple, yet the meaning is complex and multi-layered.

Unpacking the Metaphor

The first stanza of the poem reads:

Hands, do what you're bid:
Bring the balloon of the mind
That bellies and drags in the wind
Into its narrow shed.

In this stanza, Yeats addresses his hands and commands them to bring the balloon of the mind. The metaphor of the balloon represents the human imagination, which is capable of soaring to great heights and exploring the unknown. However, the balloon also "bellies and drags in the wind," suggesting that the imagination is subject to external forces that can either elevate or hinder its flight.

The last line of the stanza, "Into its narrow shed," suggests that the imagination must be contained or restrained in some way. This could be interpreted as a warning against the dangers of unbridled imagination that could lead to madness or delusion. Alternatively, it could also represent the need to channel the imagination into specific creative endeavors.

The Second Stanza and the Limits of Imagination

The second stanza reads:

Gertrude Stein's term "a rose is a rose is a rose"
Is a rose and it is a rose
And it is a rose
And it will always be a rose.

This stanza references the famous line by Gertrude Stein, "a rose is a rose is a rose," which is often interpreted as a statement about the essence of things. In this context, Yeats seems to suggest that while imagination can offer new perspectives and insights, there are some things that are unchangeable and eternal. The repeated line "it is a rose" emphasizes the notion of fixedness and stability, contrasting with the balloon's ephemeral and ever-changing nature.

However, this stanza can also be interpreted as a critique of Stein's simplistic view of the world. Yeats' use of the repeated line "it is a rose" is almost mocking in its repetition, suggesting that Stein's view lacks nuance and complexity. This interpretation would align with Yeats' belief in the importance of mythology and history in shaping our understanding of the world.

The Third Stanza and the Search for Meaning

The third stanza reads:

But the flower of the present
Is only the truth of the past
When, wind and winter harden
All the loveless land,

In this stanza, Yeats suggests that the present is shaped by the past, and that understanding the past is essential for finding meaning in the present. The image of the "loveless land" suggests a bleak and barren landscape, a world without the beauty and wonder that the imagination can provide. The line "wind and winter harden" emphasizes the harshness and cruelty of reality, which the imagination often seeks to escape.

However, the third stanza also offers a glimmer of hope. By acknowledging the truth of the past, Yeats suggests that it is possible to find meaning and purpose in the present. This interpretation aligns with Yeats' interest in history and mythology as sources of wisdom and inspiration.

The Fourth Stanza: The Balloon Soars

The final stanza reads:

Blow up the balloon of the mind
That wraps itself around the sky
And blow till nothing is left
But clear blue empty space.

In this stanza, Yeats encourages the reader to "blow up the balloon of the mind," to allow the imagination to soar to great heights. The image of the balloon "wrapping itself around the sky" suggests the boundless potential of the imagination. The final line "clear blue empty space" offers a sense of liberation and freedom, as if the imagination has transcended the limitations of the mundane world.


William Butler Yeats' "The Balloon of the Mind" is a complex poem that explores the nature of imagination and its relationship to reality. The metaphor of the balloon is used to symbolize the vast potential of the human imagination, while also warning of its dangers if left unchecked. The poem also suggests the importance of history and mythology in finding meaning and purpose in the present. Overall, "The Balloon of the Mind" is a powerful and thought-provoking work that invites the reader to take a journey through Yeats' complex and fascinating mind.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Balloon of the Mind: A Journey Through the Imagination

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, wrote a poem titled "The Balloon of the Mind" that takes readers on a journey through the imagination. This classic poem is a masterpiece of symbolism and metaphor, exploring the power of the mind to transcend the limitations of the physical world.

The poem begins with the image of a balloon, a symbol of the mind's capacity to rise above the mundane and soar into the realm of the imagination. Yeats writes:

"Hands, do what you're bid: Bring the balloon of the mind That bellies and drags in the wind Into its narrow shed."

The hands are commanded to bring the balloon of the mind, which is described as "bellying and dragging in the wind." This image suggests that the mind is not a static entity, but rather a dynamic force that is constantly in motion, propelled by the winds of inspiration and creativity.

The balloon is then brought into its "narrow shed," a metaphor for the limitations of the physical world. The mind, however, is not bound by these limitations, and can expand beyond them through the power of imagination.

Yeats continues:

"What is that balloon worth, That you should bring it here To burst it with your breath In the only chambered air?"

The poet questions the value of the balloon, asking why it should be brought into the narrow confines of the physical world only to be destroyed by the breath of those who cannot appreciate its beauty and power. The "only chambered air" refers to the limited space of the physical world, which cannot contain the vastness of the imagination.

The second stanza of the poem explores the idea of the mind as a source of inspiration and creativity:

"Words alone are certain good: Sing, then For ho! the world is full of a number of things."

Words, according to Yeats, are a "certain good" that can inspire and uplift the human spirit. He exhorts the reader to "sing," to express themselves through language and to celebrate the richness and diversity of the world around them.

The third stanza of the poem takes a darker turn, exploring the idea of the mind as a source of fear and anxiety:

"Breathless we flung us on a windy hill, Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass. Looked up through rustling branches at the sky And whispered to each other as we lay; Knowing that this life, over in a flash, One hour of shadows and of shifting things, And then a darkness."

The image of the "windy hill" suggests a place of uncertainty and instability, where the mind is buffeted by the winds of fear and anxiety. The laughter and kissing of the grass are fleeting pleasures, overshadowed by the knowledge that life is short and uncertain.

The fourth stanza of the poem returns to the theme of the mind as a source of inspiration and creativity:

"Is there aught you need that my hands withhold, Rich gifts of raiment or of food or gold? Lo! I have flung to the East and the West Priceless treasures torn from my breast, And yielded dross and hatred and despair To the very hands that smite and rend me."

The poet asks if there is anything the reader needs that he cannot provide, offering the "rich gifts" of his imagination and creativity. He has "flung" these treasures to the East and West, suggesting that they are available to all who seek them. The "dross and hatred and despair" that he has yielded to those who would harm him are the negative emotions that can arise when the mind is not allowed to soar freely.

The final stanza of the poem returns to the image of the balloon, which is now described as a "golden thread":

"But now I have nothing but my dreams to keep, Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

The poet acknowledges that he has nothing left but his dreams, which are fragile and precious. The reader is urged to "tread softly" on these dreams, to respect the power and beauty of the imagination.

In conclusion, "The Balloon of the Mind" is a powerful exploration of the human imagination and its capacity to transcend the limitations of the physical world. Through the use of vivid imagery and metaphor, Yeats takes readers on a journey through the highs and lows of the creative process, from the soaring heights of inspiration to the depths of fear and anxiety. Ultimately, the poem celebrates the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity and to create beauty and meaning in a world that can often seem dark and uncertain.

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