'Yellow Clover' by Katharine Lee Bates

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Must I, who walk alone,
Come on it still,
This Puck of plants
The wise would do away with,
The sunshine slants
To play with,
Our wee, gold-dusty flower, the yellow clover,
Which once in Parting for a time
That then seemed long,
Ere time for you was over,
We sealed our own?
Do you remember yet,
O Soul beyond the stars,
Beyond the uttermost dim bars
Of space,
Dear Soul, who found earth sweet,
Remember by love's grace,
In dreamy hushes of the heavenly song,
How suddenly we halted in our climb,
Lingering, reluctant, up that farthest hill,
Stooped for the blossoms closest to our feet,
And gave them as a token
Each to Each,
In lieu of speech,
In lieu of words too grievous to be spoken,
Those little, gypsy, wondering blossoms wet
With a strange dew of tears?

So it began,
This vagabond, unvalued yellow clover,
To be our tenderest language. All the years
It lent a new zest to the summer hours,
As each of us went scheming to surprise
The other with our homely, laureate flowers.
Sonnets and odes
Fringing our daily roads.
Can amaranth and asphodel
Bring merrier laughter to your eyes?
Oh, if the Blest, in their serene abodes,
Keep any wistful consciousness of earth,
Not grandeurs, but the childish ways of love,
Simplicities of mirth,
Must follow them above
With touches of vague homesickness that pass
Like shadows of swift birds across the grass.
Beneath some foreign arch of sky,
How many a time the rover
You or I,
For life oft sundered look from look,
And voice from voice, the transient dearth
Schooling my soul to brook
This distance that no messages may span,
Would chance
Upon our wilding by a lonely well,
Or drowsy watermill,
Or swaying to the chime of convent bell,
Or where the nightingales of old romance
With tragical contraltos fill
Dim solitudes of infinite desire;
And once I joyed to meet
Our peasant gadabout
A trespasser on trim, seigniorial seat,
Twinkling a saucy eye
As potentates paced by.

Our golden cord! our soft, pursuing flame
From friendship's altar fire!
How proudly we would pluck and tame
The dimpling clusters, mutinously gay!
How swiftly they were sent
Far, far away
On journeys wide,
By sea and continent,
Green miles and blue leagues over,
From each of us to each,
That so our hearts might reach,
And touch within the yellow clover,
Love's letter to be glad about
Like sunshine when it came!

My sorrow asks no healing; it is love;
Let love then make me brave
To bear the keen hurts of
This careless summertide,
Ay, of our own poor flower,
Changed with our fatal hour,
For all its sunshine vanished when you died;
Only white clover blossoms on your grave.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Yellow Clover: A Literary Criticism

Yellow Clover is a poem written by Katharine Lee Bates, an American poet and songwriter who lived from 1859 to 1929. This poem is one of her most famous works, and it has been anthologized in countless collections of American poetry. At its core, Yellow Clover is a poem about longing and loss, about the fleeting nature of beauty and the inevitability of mortality. In this literary criticism, we will examine the poem's themes, motifs, and symbols, as well as its form and structure, in order to gain a deeper understanding of its significance.


The central theme of Yellow Clover is the transience of beauty. The poem opens with an image of a yellow clover, which the speaker compares to a "flickering lamp," suggesting that even the most beautiful things in life are fleeting and impermanent. The speaker goes on to describe other fleeting moments of beauty, such as the "pale, pale face" of a dying friend and the "crimson flash" of a sunset. These moments of beauty are contrasted with the "cold black earth" that awaits us all, reminding us that death is inevitable and that even the most beautiful things in life are destined to pass away.

Another important theme in Yellow Clover is the power of memory. Throughout the poem, the speaker reflects on past moments of beauty and the memories that they have left behind. For example, the speaker remembers a "glimpse of a girlhood dream" and a "glimmer of old romance," suggesting that memories of past beauty can provide comfort and solace in the face of loss and mortality.

Motifs and Symbols

One of the most striking motifs in Yellow Clover is the use of light and darkness. The yellow clover is described as a "flickering lamp," suggesting that it is a source of light and warmth in the darkness. This image is repeated throughout the poem, as the speaker describes the "crimson flash" of a sunset and the "pale, pale face" of a dying friend. These moments of beauty are contrasted with images of darkness, such as the "cold black earth" and the "night that hastens after all."

Another important symbol in Yellow Clover is the clover itself. In many cultures, clovers are associated with luck and good fortune, and they are often used as symbols of hope and optimism. However, in this poem, the clover is a symbol of transience and impermanence. The speaker describes the clover as "fickle," suggesting that even the most fortunate things in life are subject to change and uncertainty.

Form and Structure

Yellow Clover is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme and meter. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, which means that each line has ten syllables, with the stress falling on every other syllable. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABABCDCDEFEFGG, with the first and third lines of each quatrain rhyming with each other, and the second and fourth lines of each quatrain rhyming with each other. The final couplet, which is often used in sonnets to provide a sense of closure or resolution, is a rhyming couplet that emphasizes the poem's central themes of transience and memory.


Yellow Clover is a deeply moving poem that speaks to the universal human experience of loss and mortality. The poem's central theme of transience reminds us that even the most beautiful things in life are fleeting and impermanent, and that all things must eventually pass away. However, the poem also suggests that memories of past beauty can provide comfort and solace in the face of loss, and that these memories can help us to find meaning and purpose in our lives.

The use of light and darkness in the poem is particularly effective, as it creates a powerful contrast between moments of beauty and moments of darkness. The yellow clover is described as a "flickering lamp," suggesting that it is a source of light and warmth in the darkness. However, this image is contrasted with images of darkness, such as the "cold black earth" and the "night that hastens after all," reminding us that even the most beautiful things in life are subject to the inevitable darkness of death.

Ultimately, Yellow Clover is a poem about the power of memory and the human ability to find beauty and meaning in the face of loss and mortality. The poem's use of form and structure, as well as its motifs and symbols, all contribute to a powerful and moving expression of these themes. It is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to speak to the deepest truths of the human experience, and to offer comfort and solace in times of sadness and loss.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Yellow Clover: A Poem of Beauty and Resilience

Katharine Lee Bates, an American poet, is known for her works that celebrate the beauty of nature and the human spirit. One of her most famous poems, Yellow Clover, is a masterpiece that captures the essence of resilience and hope in the face of adversity. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in Yellow Clover to understand why it has become a classic in American literature.

The poem begins with a description of a yellow clover, a flower that is often overlooked and considered insignificant. However, Bates sees beauty in this flower and uses it as a metaphor for the human spirit. She writes, "In the pasture field below me / Yellow butterflies, two and two, / Like a soul and its own shadow, / Wander among the waving clover." The image of the butterflies, which are often associated with transformation and rebirth, adds to the idea that the yellow clover represents the resilience of the human spirit.

Bates then shifts her focus to the natural world around her, describing the beauty of the landscape. She writes, "Dreaming, I gaze at the distant hill, / Cool and blue in the sunlit air; / Slowly the maple leaves unfold, / Glinting and glittering in the breeze." The use of sensory language, such as "cool," "blue," and "glinting," creates a vivid image in the reader's mind and adds to the overall sense of beauty and tranquility in the poem.

However, the tranquility is short-lived as Bates introduces the theme of struggle and adversity. She writes, "But my heart is a lonely hunter / That hunts on a lonely hill." The metaphor of the heart as a hunter suggests that the speaker is searching for something, perhaps meaning or purpose, but is struggling to find it. The use of the word "lonely" twice emphasizes the isolation and despair that the speaker feels.

Despite this struggle, Bates maintains a sense of hope throughout the poem. She writes, "Life is a quest and love a quarrel, / And man is a bubble's shadow." The use of the word "quest" suggests that the speaker is on a journey, and the word "love" implies that this journey is not just a physical one but an emotional and spiritual one as well. The metaphor of man as a "bubble's shadow" suggests that life is fleeting and temporary, but it also implies that there is something beyond the physical world that is worth striving for.

Bates then returns to the image of the yellow clover, writing, "But the yellow butterfly flutters by, / Like a living sunbeam, gay and bold, / And as I laugh at his wanton joy, / I envy the merry life of the bold." The use of the word "gay" in this context suggests that the speaker is not only envious of the butterfly's carefree nature but also admires it. The contrast between the speaker's loneliness and the butterfly's joy adds to the overall sense of hope and resilience in the poem.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful. Bates writes, "Ah, who will tell me, in these leaden days, / Why the sweet Spring delays, / And where she hides, - the dear desire / Of every heart that longs / For bloom, and fragrance, and the ruby fire / Of maple-boughs, and the tinted choir / Of dogwood, and the bursting hedges / That fence the singing birds, nor let them flee." The use of the word "leaden" suggests that the speaker is still struggling, but the repetition of the word "and" creates a sense of urgency and determination. The speaker is not giving up but is instead searching for answers and hope.

The final lines of the poem are perhaps the most hopeful. Bates writes, "And still the voices of the May, / With all her birds, are here; / Where are the blossoms of the May? / Alas! they are all here." The use of the word "still" suggests that despite the struggles and adversity, the beauty of the natural world remains. The repetition of the word "here" emphasizes the idea that hope and beauty are always present, even in the darkest of times.

In conclusion, Yellow Clover is a poem that celebrates the resilience and hope of the human spirit. Through the use of vivid imagery and sensory language, Bates creates a sense of beauty and tranquility that is contrasted with the struggles and adversity that the speaker faces. However, the poem ultimately ends on a hopeful note, emphasizing the idea that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope and beauty to be found. Yellow Clover is a classic in American literature and a testament to the power of poetry to inspire and uplift the human spirit.

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