'Vacilliation' by William Butler Yeats

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BETWEEN extremities
Man runs his course;
A brand, or flaming breath.
Comes to destroy
All those antinomies
Of day and night;
The body calls it death,
The heart remorse.
But if these be right
What is joy?

A tree there is that from its topmost bough
Is half all glittering flame and half all green
Abounding foliage moistened with the dew;
And half is half and yet is all the scene;
And half and half consume what they renew,
And he that Attis' image hangs between
That staring fury and the blind lush leaf
May know not what he knows, but knows not grief

Get all the gold and silver that you can,
Satisfy ambition, animate
The trivial days and ram them with the sun,
And yet upon these maxims meditate:
All women dote upon an idle man
Although their children need a rich estate;
No man has ever lived that had enough
Of children's gratitude or woman's love.
No longer in Lethean foliage caught
Begin the preparation for your death
And from the fortieth winter by that thought
Test every work of intellect or faith,
And everything that your own hands have wrought
And call those works extravagance of breath
That are not suited for such men as come
proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb.

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.
Although the summer Sunlight gild
Cloudy leafage of the sky,
Or wintry moonlight sink the field
In storm-scattered intricacy,
I cannot look thereon,
Responsibility so weighs me down.
Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.
A rivery field spread out below,
An odour of the new-mown hay
In his nostrils, the great lord of Chou
Cried, casting off the mountain snow,
"Let all things pass away.'
Wheels by milk-white asses drawn
Where Babylon or Nineveh
Rose; some conquer drew rein
And cried to battle-weary men,
"Let all things pass away.'
From man's blood-sodden heart are sprung
Those branches of the night and day
Where the gaudy moon is hung.
What's the meaning of all song?
"Let all things pass away.'

i{The Soul}.Seek out reality, leave things that seem.
i{The Heart.} What, be a singer born and lack a theme?
i{The Soul.} Isaiah's coal, what more can man desire?
i{The Heart.} Struck dumb in the simplicity of fire!
i{The Soul.} Look on that fire, salvation walks within.
i{The Heart.} What theme had Homer but original sin?

Must we part, Von Hugel, though much alike, for we
Accept the miracles of the saints and honour sanctity?
The body of Saint Teresa lies undecayed in tomb,
Bathed in miraculous oil, sweet odours from it come,
Healing from its lettered slab.Those self-same hands
Eternalised the body of a modern saint that once
Had scooped out pharaoh's mummy.I -- though heart
might find relief
Did I become a Christian man and choose for my belief
What seems most welcome in the tomb -- play a pre-
destined part.
Homer is my example and his unchristened heart.
The lion and the honeycomb, what has Scripture said?
So get you gone, Von Hugel, though with blessings on
your head.0084

Editor 1 Interpretation

Vacillation: A Critical Analysis

Author: William Butler Yeats
Year of Publication: 1920

William Butler Yeats is known for his poetry that delves into the complexities of human nature and spirituality. His poem Vacillation is a prime example of this, as it explores the struggles of the human psyche between reason and passion, and the quest for spiritual enlightenment. In this critical analysis, we will delve deep into the poem and explore its various themes, symbols, and literary devices.


Vacillation is a poem that is split into two parts, each with eight stanzas. The first part deals with the conflict between reason and passion, and the second part focuses on the search for spiritual enlightenment. The poem is written in free verse and does not adhere to any specific rhyme scheme or meter. Yeats uses a variety of literary devices, including metaphor, allusion, and repetition, to convey his message.

Part I: Reason and Passion

The first part of the poem deals with the struggle between reason and passion within the human psyche. Yeats uses the metaphor of a bird to symbolize the two opposing forces. The bird is described as having "a heart that's welling/with unshed tears," which represents the passion that lies within us all. However, the bird is also described as having "a head that's hung with snow," which represents reason and the wisdom that comes with age.

Yeats also alludes to the story of King Solomon in this part of the poem. King Solomon is said to have asked God for wisdom, and God granted his request. Yeats uses this story to emphasize the importance of reason in the quest for enlightenment. He writes:

"O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?"

These lines suggest that reason is necessary in order to understand the world around us. We must be able to distinguish between the dancer and the dance, or the exterior and the interior, in order to gain true insight.

Yeats also uses repetition in this part of the poem to emphasize the conflict between reason and passion. The lines "Reason in itself confounded, / Saw division grow together, / To themselves they were not parted, / But mingled" are repeated several times, each time with slight variations. This repetition emphasizes the idea that reason and passion are intertwined and cannot be separated.

Part II: The Search for Spiritual Enlightenment

The second part of the poem focuses on the search for spiritual enlightenment. Yeats uses the symbol of the gyres to represent the journey towards enlightenment. The gyres are spiral shapes that represent the cyclical nature of history and human evolution. Yeats believed that humanity was moving towards a new age of spiritual enlightenment, and that the journey towards this age was represented by the movement of the gyres.

In this part of the poem, Yeats also alludes to the story of the Buddha. The Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment under a bodhi tree. Yeats uses this story to emphasize the idea that spiritual enlightenment can only be achieved through a state of stillness and contemplation. He writes:

"The mystical light is dimmed,
Gone is the smoke from the mountain-side,
O turn or deepen down past Palencian,
In that white wave a diving bird"

These lines suggest that in order to achieve enlightenment, one must turn inward and dive deep into the inner self.

Yeats also uses repetition in this part of the poem to emphasize the cyclical nature of the journey towards enlightenment. The lines "Turning and turning in the widening gyre, / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world" are repeated several times throughout the poem. This repetition emphasizes the idea that the journey towards enlightenment is a cyclical process that involves both ascent and descent.


Vacillation is a complex poem that deals with the struggle between reason and passion, and the journey towards spiritual enlightenment. Yeats uses a variety of literary devices to convey his message, including metaphor, allusion, and repetition. The poem is split into two parts, each with its own distinct themes and symbols. The first part deals with the conflict between reason and passion, while the second part focuses on the journey towards enlightenment. Through his use of metaphor and repetition, Yeats emphasizes the cyclical nature of this journey and the importance of stillness and contemplation in achieving spiritual enlightenment.

Overall, Vacillation is a powerful poem that speaks to the complexities of human nature and the quest for spiritual enlightenment. Its themes and symbols are timeless, and its message is as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1920.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and his poem "The Poetry of Vacillation" is a masterpiece of modernist literature. The poem was written in 1919, during a time of great political and social upheaval in Ireland, and it reflects Yeats' own struggles with his identity and his place in the world.

At its core, "The Poetry of Vacillation" is a meditation on the nature of change and the human desire for stability and certainty. The poem is divided into two parts, each of which explores a different aspect of this theme.

The first part of the poem is titled "The Choice" and it begins with the speaker reflecting on his own indecisiveness and his inability to commit to any one course of action. He describes himself as a "man that finds no peace," and he laments the fact that he is constantly torn between conflicting desires and impulses.

The speaker then goes on to describe a vision he has had of a beautiful woman who represents the ideal of stability and permanence. This woman is described as "a star with a steady beam," and the speaker longs to be able to follow her and find the peace and certainty that she represents.

However, the speaker is also aware of the fact that this desire for stability and certainty is ultimately futile. He recognizes that the world is constantly changing and that nothing can remain the same forever. He describes the woman as "a changing, shining sea," and he acknowledges that even she is subject to the forces of change and impermanence.

The second part of the poem is titled "The Scholars" and it takes a more philosophical approach to the theme of vacillation. The speaker describes a group of scholars who are debating the nature of reality and the role of the individual in shaping it.

The scholars argue that reality is ultimately subjective and that each individual creates their own reality through their thoughts and actions. They also argue that the individual has the power to shape the world around them and to create a more stable and permanent reality.

However, the speaker is skeptical of these claims. He recognizes that the world is full of contradictions and that there is no one "true" reality that can be objectively observed or understood. He describes reality as "a shifting, phantom thing," and he suggests that the only way to find any kind of stability or certainty is to embrace the contradictions and uncertainties of life.

Overall, "The Poetry of Vacillation" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores some of the most fundamental questions of human existence. It is a testament to Yeats' skill as a poet and his ability to capture the complexities and contradictions of the human experience in his work.

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