W. B. Yeats: as A Love Poet

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      Yeats is still considered to be a great love poet. The bulk of his lyric poetry has love as its subject matter. In the early love lyrics, love is just a vague and fleeting emotion. It was on meeting Maud Gonne that Yeats was transformed into a great love poet. His love and devotion to her were lifelong and it is only natural that we find her everywhere in his poetry. As Stock puts it: “(But) if every painting of Maud Gonne vanished, something of her would remain credible in Yeats’s verses.”

Yeats’s Love for Maud Gonne

      Yeats’s failure in his love for Maud Gonne and the sense of loss which resulted from this, kept haunting him throughout his life. He met Maud Gonne when he was 23 years old and fell instantly and feverishly in love with her. Yeats has few equals in English poetry in the way he has immortalized the beauty and charm of Maud Gonne in the poem No Second Troy.

With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this.
Being high and solitary and most stern?

      Elsewhere, he see Maud Gonne as:

Tall and noble but with face and bosom
Delicate in color as apple blossom.

      These lines clearly show that he saw Maud Gonne as not only beautiful but very majestic also.

      In the poem A Prayer for My Daughter he calls Maud Gonne:

...The loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn.

      Yeats’s love lyrics can easily rank among the best ever written. You are Old is among the better known of his love lyrics where he makes it clear that his love is for his beloved’s pilgrim soul whereas the love of others may well be for the physical charm.

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

      In the poem He gives his Beloved certain Rhymes, Yeats pays a glowing tribute to the power of Maud Gonne’s beauty:

You need but lift a pearl-pale hand,
And bind up, your long hair and sigh:
And all men’s hearts must burn and beat:
And candle-like foam on the sand,
And stars climbing the dew dropping sky,
Live but to light your passing feet.

      In the poem He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven Yeats says:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

      Her Praise is a poem which begins:

She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.

Greater Poignancy in Yeats’s Love Lyrics after Maud Gonne’s Marriage

      Maud Gonne got married to Major MacBride in 1903 and Yeats’s love poetry after that comes to have much more of poignancy. The sense of loss resulting from his failure is informed by most of his poems written after this. This sense of loss is talked of in A Prayer for My Daughter, When You are Old and in No Second Troy but the best and the most poignant expression of this comes in the poem The Tower:

Does the imagination dwell the post
Upon a woman won or woman lost?
If on the lost admit you turned aside
From a great labyrinth out of pride,
Cowardice, some silly over-subtle thought
Or anything called conscience once;
And that if memory recur, the sun’s
Under eclipse and the day blotted out.

      The poem Among School Children also brings in his love for Maud Gonne. Other poems where love is the theme are: The Sorrow of Love, He Mourns for the change that has come upon him and his Beloved, and Longs for the End of the World, He bid his Beloved, Be at Peace, He Reproves the Curlew, He wishes his Beloved were Dead, and Never give all the Heart.


      Yeats is one of the greatest love poets of the English language and the complexity, the lyric grace and authenticity of the feeling of his love poems along with his intensity and his expression of the sense of loss resulting from failure in love, all go into ranking him with the other great love poets like John Donne, Robert Browning, Andrew Marvell, John Keats and Shelley.


“Yeats is still considered to be a great love poet.” Discuss.

Analyze some of the love-lyrics of Yeats and bring out his greatness as a love poet.

‘‘Yeats’s love-lyrics can easily rank with the best ever written.” Comment.

“Maud Gonne once told Yeats that he would, must thank her refusing to marry him and the world should be inclined to agree with her, because out of that refusal sprang some of the best love poems in English literature.” Do you agree?

‘‘Yeats has few equals in English poetry in the way he has immortalized the beauty and charm of Maud Gonne.” Comment on this statement.

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