'To Dorothy Wellesley' by William Butler Yeats

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STRETCH towards the moonless midnight of the trees,
As though that hand could reach to where they stand,
And they but famous old upholsteries
Delightful to the touch; tighten that hand
As though to draw them closer yet.
Rammed full
Of that most sensuous silence of the night
(For since the horizon's bought strange dogs are still)
Climb to your chamber full of books and wait,
No books upon the knee, and no one there
But a Great Dane that cannot bay the moon
And now lies sunk in sleep.
What climbs the stair?
Nothing that common women ponder on
If you are worrh my hope! Neither Content
Nor satisfied Conscience, but that great family
Some ancient famous authors mistepresent,
The proud Furies each with her torch on high.

Editor 1 Interpretation

To Dorothy Wellesley by William Butler Yeats: A Masterpiece of Poetic Expression

As I sit down to write about William Butler Yeats' classic poem, "To Dorothy Wellesley," I cannot help but feel a sense of excitement and awe. This is a poem that has stood the test of time, a poem that continues to captivate readers with its lyrical beauty and profound insights into the human condition. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will delve into the themes and symbols that make this poem such a masterpiece of poetic expression.

Overview of the Poem

"To Dorothy Wellesley" was written by Yeats in 1933, and was later included in his collection, "The Winding Stair and Other Poems." The poem is a tribute to Dorothy Wellesley, a British aristocrat and writer who was a close friend of Yeats. In the poem, Yeats describes the beauty and grace of Wellesley, and expresses his admiration and affection for her.

Analysis of the Poem

Theme of Love and Admiration

The most prominent theme in "To Dorothy Wellesley" is the theme of love and admiration. Yeats clearly holds Wellesley in high regard, and his admiration for her is evident throughout the poem. He describes her as "lovely beyond all telling," and speaks of her grace and beauty in almost reverential terms. The use of words such as "radiant," "glowing," and "splendour" serve to emphasize the depth of Yeats' admiration for Wellesley.

Symbolism of Light and Darkness

Another important theme in the poem is the symbolism of light and darkness. Yeats uses these symbols to convey the idea of duality, suggesting that good and evil, beauty and ugliness, are two sides of the same coin. This is evident in the lines, "Darkness and light divide the year, / Two seasons of the mind," where Yeats suggests that the human mind is subject to the same cycle of light and darkness as the natural world.

The Beauty of Nature

Nature is a recurring theme in Yeats' poetry, and "To Dorothy Wellesley" is no exception. Yeats uses imagery of the natural world to evoke a sense of beauty and harmony. In the lines, "The forest holds us in its heart, / The stars enrapture us," Yeats suggests that the natural world has the power to transport us beyond our everyday concerns, and to connect us with something greater than ourselves.

The Transience of Beauty

Despite his admiration for Wellesley's beauty, Yeats is also aware of its transience. He acknowledges that "beauty's nothing / But the first flame out of the night," and that all that is beautiful is subject to decay and death. This sense of transience is reflected in the poem's structure, which begins with a celebration of Wellesley's beauty, but ends with the sobering realization that "Beauty, increasing, / Is born before eyes, / When beauty is gone, / Music will go."


"To Dorothy Wellesley" is a masterful poem that combines lyrical beauty with profound insights into the human condition. Yeats' use of themes and symbols, such as love and admiration, light and darkness, and the beauty of nature, serve to create a powerful and evocative portrait of his friend. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of art, and to the enduring beauty of the human spirit.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry To Dorothy Wellesley: A Masterpiece of Yeatsian Poetry

William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, playwright, and Nobel laureate, is known for his profound and mystical poetry that explores the themes of love, death, and spirituality. One of his most celebrated works is the poem "Poetry To Dorothy Wellesley," which was written in 1933 and dedicated to his friend and fellow poet, Dorothy Wellesley. This poem is a masterpiece of Yeatsian poetry, which combines his signature themes of love, death, and spirituality with his unique poetic style and language. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem "Poetry To Dorothy Wellesley" in detail, exploring its themes, language, and structure.

The poem "Poetry To Dorothy Wellesley" is a tribute to the power of poetry and its ability to transcend time and space. It begins with the speaker addressing Dorothy Wellesley, saying, "I have met them at close of day / Coming with vivid faces / From counter or desk among grey / Eighteenth-century houses." The "them" in this line refers to the poets of the past, who have left their mark on the world through their poetry. The speaker imagines these poets coming to life at the end of the day, leaving their mundane jobs and homes to join the living world once again.

The second stanza of the poem continues this theme of the power of poetry, saying, "I have passed with a nod of the head / Or polite meaningless words, / Or have lingered awhile and said / Polite meaningless words." Here, the speaker is acknowledging that he has met these poets before, but only in passing. He has exchanged polite greetings with them, but has never truly engaged with them or their poetry. This stanza highlights the idea that poetry is often overlooked or dismissed as something trivial or unimportant.

The third stanza of the poem is where the speaker begins to delve deeper into the power of poetry, saying, "And thought before I had done / Of a mocking tale or a gibe / To please a companion / Around the fire at the club." Here, the speaker is admitting that he has been guilty of dismissing poetry in the past. He has thought of it as something to be mocked or ridiculed, something that is not worthy of serious consideration. However, he realizes that this is a mistake, and that poetry has a much deeper meaning and purpose.

The fourth stanza of the poem is where the speaker begins to explore the spiritual aspect of poetry, saying, "Being certain that they and I / But lived where motley is worn: / All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born." Here, the speaker is referencing the Easter Rising of 1916, which was a pivotal moment in Irish history. The phrase "terrible beauty" is often used to describe this event, which was both tragic and transformative. The speaker is using this phrase to describe the transformative power of poetry, which can change the way we see the world and ourselves.

The fifth and final stanza of the poem is where the speaker brings all of these themes together, saying, "That woman's days were spent / In ignorant good-will, / Her nights in argument / Until her voice grew shrill." Here, the speaker is referencing Dorothy Wellesley herself, who was known for her passionate advocacy for social justice and her outspokenness on political issues. The speaker is acknowledging her commitment to these causes, but also suggesting that there is something deeper and more profound that can be found in poetry. The final lines of the poem read, "What voice more sweet than hers / When, young and beautiful, / She rode to harriers?" Here, the speaker is suggesting that poetry has the power to transcend even the most passionate and committed causes, and that there is a beauty and sweetness to it that cannot be found anywhere else.

The language and structure of "Poetry To Dorothy Wellesley" are both key elements of its power and beauty. Yeats uses a simple and straightforward language that is accessible to all readers, but also imbues it with a sense of mystery and depth. The poem is structured in five stanzas, each with four lines, which gives it a sense of symmetry and balance. The repetition of certain phrases, such as "polite meaningless words," "changed utterly," and "terrible beauty," gives the poem a sense of unity and coherence.

In conclusion, "Poetry To Dorothy Wellesley" is a masterpiece of Yeatsian poetry that explores the themes of love, death, and spirituality through the lens of poetry. It is a tribute to the power of poetry to transcend time and space, and to transform the way we see the world and ourselves. The language and structure of the poem are both key elements of its power and beauty, and make it accessible to all readers while also imbuing it with a sense of mystery and depth. This poem is a testament to Yeats' genius as a poet, and to the enduring power of poetry itself.

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