'Presences' by William Butler Yeats

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THIS night has been so strange that it seemed
As if the hair stood up on my head.
From going-down of the sun I have dreamed
That women laughing, or timid or wild,
In rustle of lace or silken stuff,
Climbed up my creaking stair.They had read
All I had rhymed of that monstrous thing
Returned and yet unrequited love.
They stood in the door and stood between
My great wood lectern and the fire
Till I could hear their hearts beating:
One is a harlot, and one a child
That never looked upon man with desire.
And one, it may be, a queen.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, Presences: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats

Are you looking for a literary gem that will leave you enchanted and mesmerized? Look no further than William Butler Yeats' "Poetry, Presences." This collection of poems, published posthumously in 1930, is a masterpiece that showcases Yeats' mastery of language, imagery, and symbolism. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into the themes, motifs, and literary devices that make this collection a timeless classic.

Background and Context

Before we dive into the poems, let's first explore the context and background of Yeats' life and work. Yeats was an Irish poet, playwright, and politician who lived from 1865-1939. He was a pivotal figure in the Irish Literary Revival, which sought to revive and celebrate Irish culture and identity through literature. Yeats was heavily influenced by Irish mythology, folklore, and spirituality, and his poetry often reflects these themes.

"Poetry, Presences" was published after Yeats' death in 1939, but many of the poems were written in the final years of his life. This collection is unique in that it is thematically unified, with many of the poems exploring the idea of "presences" - spiritual, mystical, or supernatural beings that appear in our lives. These presences can take many forms, from ghosts and fairies to angels and demons. Yeats often used these presences as a way to explore deeper themes of mortality, love, and the human experience.

Themes and Motifs

One of the most prominent themes in "Poetry, Presences" is the idea of mortality and the afterlife. Many of the poems explore the idea of what happens after we die, or the possibility of a spiritual world that exists beyond our own. In "The Black Tower," for example, Yeats writes:

"The heron-billed pale cattle-birds
That feed on some foul parasite
Of the Moroccan flocks and herds
Cross the narrow Straits to light
In the rich midnight of the garden trees
Till the dawn break upon those dancing birds.
The heron stands in his place
Ornamental frill on his neck
Like some cathedral built to face
The coming of the dead,
Ornamental burden on the mist,
Awaiting some uncertain guest."

Here, Yeats describes a heron waiting in a garden, as if it is waiting for the coming of the dead. The imagery of the heron as a cathedral built to face the afterlife is particularly striking. This poem suggests that there is a spiritual world that exists beyond our own, and that death may not be the end.

Another prominent theme in "Poetry, Presences" is the idea of love and relationships. Many of the poems explore the complexities of love, from the beauty and passion to the heartbreak and pain. In "The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart," Yeats writes:

"All things uncomely and broken, all things worn out and old,
The cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart,
The heavy steps of the ploughman, splashing the wintry mould,
Are wronging your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart."

This poem describes the power of love to transform our perception of the world, even in the midst of darkness and despair. The image of the rose blossoming in the heart is particularly poignant, suggesting that love can bring new life and beauty to even the most broken and worn-out parts of ourselves.

Throughout the collection, Yeats also explores the idea of identity and the human experience. Many of the poems reflect on the complexities of the self, the search for meaning and purpose, and the fragility of our existence. In "The Circus Animals' Desertion," Yeats writes:

"Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart."

This poem reflects on the idea of the self as a construction, and the difficulty of finding a true sense of identity in a world that is constantly changing. The image of the "foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart" suggests that our true selves are often buried beneath layers of social conditioning, cultural expectations, and personal insecurities.

Literary Devices and Techniques

One of the reasons why "Poetry, Presences" is such a powerful collection is because of Yeats' masterful use of literary devices and techniques. One of the most prominent techniques he uses is symbolism, which allows him to convey complex ideas and emotions through the use of imagery. In "The Tower," for example, Yeats writes:

"I, that had much of wildness
And of the savage breed,
Endure upon my tower
As upon a siege."

Here, Yeats uses the image of a tower as a symbol for the self, suggesting that the speaker is isolated and besieged by the forces of the world. The use of the word "wildness" and "savage" further emphasizes the idea of the self as a primitive force, struggling to survive in a world that is often hostile and unforgiving.

Yeats also makes use of meter and rhyme to create a musical quality to his poetry. In "The Fiddler of Dooney," for example, Yeats writes:

"The fiddler of Dooney
Had loved his mournful tune;
But now he plays so loudly
His fingers bleed at the moon.
He nods his head and grins
And shakes his tambourine,
While his high-born neighbors
Stamp their feet upon the green."

This poem has a distinctly musical quality, with its rhythmic meter and rhyming couplets. The repetition of the word "moon" and the image of the fiddler playing so loudly that his fingers bleed further emphasizes the intense passion and emotion of the speaker.


"Poetry, Presences" is a timeless masterpiece that showcases Yeats' literary genius. Through its exploration of themes such as mortality, love, and identity, Yeats offers readers a glimpse into the complex workings of the human experience. His use of literary devices and techniques creates a poetic language that is both beautiful and powerful, drawing readers into a world of myth and magic. Whether you are a lover of poetry or simply looking for a literary journey, "Poetry, Presences" is a must-read that will leave you enchanted and inspired.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Presences: A Masterpiece by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, playwright, and politician, is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. His works are known for their deep symbolism, mysticism, and romanticism. Among his many masterpieces, Poetry Presences stands out as a remarkable poem that captures the essence of poetry and its power to transcend time and space.

Poetry Presences was first published in 1914 in Yeats' collection of poems, Responsibilities. The poem is composed of four stanzas, each with four lines, and follows a simple ABAB rhyme scheme. However, the simplicity of the structure belies the complexity of the poem's themes and imagery.

The poem begins with the lines, "In a dim corner of my room for longer than/ My fancy thinks a man and woman have been/ Lovers." These lines set the tone for the rest of the poem, as Yeats invites us to enter a world of imagination and mystery. The dim corner of the room becomes a metaphor for the hidden depths of the human psyche, where the poet's imagination can roam free.

The lovers in the poem represent the creative forces that drive the poet's art. Yeats sees poetry as a union of opposites, where the masculine and feminine energies come together to create something new. The man and woman in the poem are not just physical entities but also symbolic representations of the conscious and unconscious mind.

The second stanza of the poem introduces the idea of time and how it affects the creative process. Yeats writes, "They have forgotten the world for each other's arms/ And care not for the passion that impels them." The lovers are so absorbed in each other that they are oblivious to the outside world. This is a metaphor for the poet's need to detach himself from the mundane and focus on his art. The passion that impels them is the same passion that drives the poet to create.

The third stanza of the poem is perhaps the most enigmatic. Yeats writes, "But the passion of lovers is for death said she/ And not for life, then note the hush that broods/ When lovers part." The woman's statement that the passion of lovers is for death is a reference to the idea of the death drive in psychoanalysis. The death drive is the urge to return to a state of non-existence, which is the opposite of the life drive. Yeats sees poetry as a way to transcend the limitations of life and achieve a kind of immortality. The hush that broods when lovers part is a metaphor for the silence that follows the completion of a poem, as if the poet has achieved a moment of transcendence.

The final stanza of the poem brings the themes of the previous stanzas together. Yeats writes, "Their minds have forgotten the passion for poetry/ So that their forms are what we call empty things/ But I have wondered if the passion and the strife/ Still live." The lovers have forgotten their passion for poetry, and their forms have become empty things. This is a metaphor for the loss of inspiration that can afflict any artist. However, Yeats wonders if the passion and the strife still live, suggesting that the creative forces are never truly extinguished.

In conclusion, Poetry Presences is a masterpiece of modern poetry that captures the essence of the creative process. Yeats uses the metaphor of the lovers to explore the union of opposites that drives the poet's art. He also touches on the themes of time, death, and immortality, showing how poetry can transcend the limitations of life. The poem is a testament to Yeats' mastery of language and his ability to convey complex ideas in a simple and elegant form. It is a poem that will continue to inspire and captivate readers for generations to come.

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