'The Mother Of God' by William Butler Yeats
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THE threefold terror of love; a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.
Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?
What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart's blood stop
Or strikes a Sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Mother of God by William Butler Yeats
The Mother of God is a sonnet written by the celebrated Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. As the title suggests, the poem revolves around the theme of religion, specifically the reverence of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic faith. Yeats, however, approaches the topic with a critical eye, questioning the very foundations of the belief that the Virgin Mary is the mother of God.
Background and Context
William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1865. He was raised in a Protestant family, but later in life, he converted to Catholicism. However, Yeats' relationship with religion was a complex one. He was critical of the institutionalization of religion and the way it was used to control people. In his poetry, Yeats often explored the themes of religion and spirituality, but he did so in a way that was deeply personal and often conflicted.
The Mother of God was written in 1931, when Yeats was in his mid-sixties. At this point in his life, Yeats was deeply interested in the occult and mysticism. He was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society that explored esoteric knowledge and spiritualism. This interest in mysticism is reflected in the imagery and language of The Mother of God.
The Mother of God is a sonnet, which means it follows a strict rhyme scheme and structure. The poem is divided into two stanzas, with four lines in each. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, which gives the poem a sense of symmetry and order.
The first stanza of the poem describes the Virgin Mary as a woman who is "more than queen / Her heart more than the world shall ever guess." This description is in line with the Catholic belief that the Virgin Mary is a holy figure who is revered above all other women. However, Yeats' use of the word "guess" suggests that there is something hidden or mysterious about the Virgin Mary. This is a common theme in Yeats' poetry, as he often explores the idea of hidden knowledge and occult mysteries.
The second stanza of the poem is where Yeats' critical eye comes into play. He questions the very idea that the Virgin Mary is the mother of God. He states that "A woman can be proud and stiff / When on love intent." This suggests that the Virgin Mary may have been a regular woman who was simply in love with God, rather than the mother of God himself. Yeats' use of the word "stiff" is interesting, as it suggests that the Virgin Mary may have been resistant to the idea of being worshipped as a divine figure.
The final two lines of the poem are perhaps the most cryptic. Yeats writes, "But Love has pitched his mansion in / The place of excrement." This is a reference to the idea that the divine can be found in the most unlikely of places. The "place of excrement" suggests something unclean or impure, but Yeats is suggesting that even in the dirtiest and most unpleasant places, love can be found. This is a common theme in Yeats' poetry, as he often explores the idea that the divine can be found in the everyday world around us.
The Mother of God is a complex and cryptic poem that has been the subject of much literary criticism. One of the main themes that critics have focused on is Yeats' relationship with Catholicism. Some have argued that the poem is a critique of the Catholic Church, which Yeats saw as an institution that was corrupt and out of touch with the spiritual needs of the people. Others have suggested that the poem is a commentary on Yeats' own conflicted relationship with Catholicism, as he was a convert to the faith but also a critic of its institutionalization.
Another theme that has been explored by literary critics is the occult and mystical elements of the poem. Some have suggested that the reference to the "place of excrement" is a reference to alchemy, a mystical practice that was popular among members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Others have suggested that the poem is a commentary on the human condition, and the idea that even in the most difficult of circumstances, love can be found.
The Mother of God is a complex and cryptic poem that explores the theme of religion and spirituality. Yeats' use of language and imagery creates a sense of mystery and intrigue, and the poem has been the subject of much literary criticism over the years. While the meaning of the poem may be elusive, it is clear that Yeats was grappling with some of the most profound questions of human existence, and his exploration of these themes continues to captivate readers and scholars alike.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. His works are known for their depth, complexity, and beauty. One of his most famous poems is "The Mother of God," which explores the relationship between the divine and the human.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a vision of the Virgin Mary. He sees her "standing on the steps / Of the throne of the mightiest, / Holding in her outstretched arms / The child, the human Christ." This image is powerful and evocative, as it captures the essence of the Christian faith. The Virgin Mary is the mother of God, and her son is both fully divine and fully human.
The speaker goes on to describe the beauty and majesty of the Virgin Mary. He says that she is "clothed in a garment / Of the color of the dawn," and that her face is "like the sun." This imagery is striking, as it suggests that the Virgin Mary is both radiant and powerful. She is a symbol of hope and salvation, and her presence brings light to the darkness.
As the poem progresses, the speaker begins to reflect on the nature of the divine. He asks, "What is this that I have seen?" and wonders if it is "a dream, a vision, or a waking trance." He is unsure of what he has experienced, but he knows that it has left a profound impression on him.
The speaker then turns his attention to the human condition. He says that "we are born to die," and that "our lives are but a breath." This is a sobering thought, as it suggests that our time on earth is fleeting and temporary. However, the speaker also suggests that there is hope beyond death. He says that "the soul that rises with us, our life's star, / Hath had elsewhere its setting, / And cometh from afar." This suggests that there is a spiritual dimension to our existence, and that our souls are eternal.
The poem concludes with the speaker reflecting on the relationship between the divine and the human. He says that "the Mother of God is the mother of us all," and that "her love is the love that moves the sun and the other stars." This is a powerful statement, as it suggests that the divine is not distant or aloof, but rather intimately connected to our lives. The Virgin Mary is not just a symbol of hope and salvation, but also a symbol of love and compassion.
In conclusion, "The Mother of God" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the relationship between the divine and the human. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Yeats captures the essence of the Christian faith and suggests that there is hope beyond death. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of faith and the human spirit, and it continues to inspire readers today.
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