Adam's Curse: by W. B. Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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      Sitting together in the evening of summer, the poet along with his friend and a ‘beautiful wild woman’ discussed about poetry. In the discourse the poet referred to his view that workmanship of art involves a lot of labor. The poet says that before the Fall of Adam, life was more smooth flowing without any hardship but after the Fall the condition of hardship was imposed to achieve perfection. It may not be like the physical labor that one has to put for rubbing a kitchen pavement or breaking stones but the mental strain is always there that precedes the work of art. At this point the beautiful woman commented that a woman meticulously endeavors to keep herself beautiful. Then from the work of art the discussion turned to love. The poet told that even love requires labor. To woo successfully artifices are required. Still it proves to be in vain at the end of the day. Like the moon in the blue green sky that becomes hollow in the course of time, love becomes worn-out and loses the ardent passion which marks the preliminary stage of love.

Explanation 1-14

      Once towards the end of summer, the poet sat with a friend and a beautiful old woman. They started talking on poetry. The poet refers to the labor and perspiration that must precede a work of art. He says that even a line of poetry requires great labor, though, when written, it seems to be a work of no labor. He describes pains that precede a work of art. Stitching and unstitching are needed before art arises. It is not like washing a kitchen pavement or breaking stones in all kinds of weather. Art requires a different kind, of labor not the physical labor like breaking stones. Good art must be vocal and sweet and. this art needs greater labor than the labor needed for physical work. The poet, then, refers to the irony of life of the artists. He says that bankers, school masters, clergymen and martyrs are supposed to be active, and artists, though they work ceaselessly, are called idlers.

Explanation 15-21

      When the poet has finished his talk on art, the woman expresses her own views. She is beautiful woman. Though she is old, yet her voice is sweet and low. She is so delicate and charming that all hearts will ache for her. She retorts that a woman has to be beautiful and to be admired by all. She has to work hard for beauty’s gain.

Explanation 22-28

      These lines occur in the poem entitled Adam’s Curse by W.B. Yeats. The poet sits with a friend and a beautiful old woman. They begin to talk on art. The poet describes the labor that is needed for a work of art. The woman says that a beautiful woman has to work hard to be beautiful. Thereupon, the poet again expresses his views on the work of art. (Important).

      The poet says that before Fall of Adam, life was beautiful without labor. But after the Fall perfection is there but on the basis of hard work. Mere inspiration or chance would not do. Constant hard labor is needed for all achievements. The poet then refers to love. Love needs utmost of refinement but that refinement must follow labor. There have been lovers who regarded refinement and politeness as the basis of love and who also quoted previous examples from authentic books to show the correctness of their view. But now love is considered to be an idle affair. The poet means to say that genuine love must follow hard labor.

Explanation 29-34

      Lovers sit talk together about love. They draw a picture of love spreading and touching each other. They, then, refer to the sobriety and coolness of love in old age. They illustrate their view by giving an example of the moon. They say that the moon is made hollow in the process of time. She is washed by time’s waters as they rise and fall about the stars in course of time. Similarly, washed by time, love grows sober and cool in growing age. Hence the lovers sit grown quiet.

Explanation 35-39

      These are the concluding lines of the poem Adam’s Curse by W.B. Yeats. In the preceding lines, the poet has preferred to the talks of the lovers who sit together and talk about love. They describe the sobriety and coolness of love in the growing age. In these lines the lover describes the philosophy of love. The lover tells his beloved that she was very beautiful and attractive and so he tried his best to love her in the old way of love. He, then, describes the philosophy of love. He gives an example of the moon to illustrate his view. He says that the moon is hollow and weary after the passage of time. So love grows faint in course of time. The idea is that in love there is ardor and it grows, but after some time it fades. What a frustration in love! This is the whole philosophy of love, i.e., one who loves must get frustrated, and love gets fainted with the passage of time. (Important).

Critical Analysis


      Adam’s Curse is one of Years poems written about the close of his first phase of poetry. It anticipates the sinewy bareness and tonal complexity of Yeats’s later poetry. It begins with an anecdote. The poet expresses his views on art and love. He says that after the Fall of Adam, labor is needed for achievements. He refers to pains that precede a work of art. Stichting and unstitching are needed before art arises. Good art must speak and must be sweet, and such art needs labor and perspiration. Then the poet describes the delicacy and refinement of love.

      The poem Adam’s Curse (1902) is written in a colloquial style, a conversation between Yeats and the sister of Maud Gonne, Mrs. Kathleen Pilcher, sitting beside the great lady herself. The subject is Adam’s curse, that is, labor, necessary for producing things beautiful and noble. The poet must labor harder than a road-mender to produce lines which appear to be effortless and spontaneous....‘a moment’s thought’. Thereupon ‘that beautiful mild woman’ replies that the same labor is also essential to preserve the female beauty. They must undergo the heroic discipline of ‘the looking glass’. Then the conversation passes on to love, where some people (like Yeats himself) rely on courtesy and refined manners, described in the books on chivalry, but now, with the poet’s frustration in his noble love for Maud Gronne, ‘it seems an idle enough’. Then comes the image of moon in the sky, worn like a washed shell, which is taken as the fittest symbol of their high romantic love, empty of substance.

Critical Appearance

      Poems like The Polly of Being Comforted and Adam’s Curse are of two those poems that state the poet’s bare conviction with a bare sheer penetration power which could only be weakened by ornaments. The fire of passion has purged of all that a superfluous. The whole rings true. There is no symbolism or metrical decoration about such poems. Eliot comments that in these poems ‘something is coming through’ and that Yeats ‘in beginning to speak as a particular beginning to speak for man’.

      Adam's Curse includes a revealing aside on how Yeats wrote his poetry.

“I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught....’’

      Before the Fall, things were beautiful; life was free from the need of labor. Since then, anyone seeking perfection in expression had to work hard and not take inspiration for granted. There was need for hard work. This truth about art is expressed in this poem. The poem, like The Folly, begins as an anecdote. The poet was one day sitting with a friend and beautiful old woman and talked of poetry. The poet was expatiating on the need of fundamental brainwork in the art of writing poetry. The old woman brought in her experience—“We must labor to be beautiful.” The poet added that not only in literature but also in love, it is necessary to work hard and not rely on rule of thumb methods. The last two stanzas revert to Yeats’s old sentimental manner and sketch a picture of the lover and the lass sitting and talking of love. On the face of it, the poem appears to be a mere disquisition on style, and as such is hardly fit for poetic presentation. But passion redeems it. The poet has aimed at, and succeeded in, reproducing educated conversation in a heightened form. He has not kept to words which were and are normally regarded as poetic. He uses such colloquialisms as ‘marrowbones’ or ‘kitchen-pavements,’ without destroying the charm of his verse. In the crucible of his imagination discordant material gets fused and united into a thing of art. Well may the poet feel that he was gaining in strength; and in 1903, he had written to Lady Gregoiyf “You need not be troubled about my poetic faculty. I was never so full of new thoughts for verse. My work has got far more masculine. It has more salt in it.” It was the salt, not of attitudinizing, but of real conviction.

      The poet expresses the views on art. He says that before the Fall of Adam, art was beautiful. It was without labor. After the Fall, perfection is there but on the basis of hard work. Mere inspiration or chance would not do. Hard, constant work and effort is needed for every great work of art. Mere inspiration would not do; perspiration is also essential. He expresses himself in the following veins:

“A line will take us hours maybe,
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Ours stitching and unstitching has been naught, Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder then all these.”

      Besides, the poet refers to the Fall and points out the need of labor.

“It’s certain there is no fine thing.
Since Adam’s Fall but needs much laboring.”

      The poem embodies the deep philosophy of love. The last two stanzas are a feast for lovers who sit together and talk. The conversation of the lovers is about love. They draw a picture of love spreading and touching each other. They point out that washed hy time love grows sober and is cool in old age. Hence, lovers in old age grow quiet. Besides, in love there is ardor and depth. It grows but after some time it fades. This is the frustration in love. The poet refers to this in these lines :

“We sat grown quiet at the name of love :
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears: That you were beautiful, and that I strove To love you in the old high way of love; That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.”

      Style. The language of the poem is easy and simple. The style is direct and clear. The; poem is characterized by straightforwardness of narration. It begins like an anecdote and possesses all the essentials of an anecdote. The narration is quite forceful. Mark the beginning:

“We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful old woman, your close friend, And you and I, and talked of poetry.”

      Conclusion. According to Dr. B. Rajan “Adam’s Curse is a breakaway in the direction of common speech but remains self-conscious in the manner of its breakaway......... Note the element of self-pity in ‘martyrs’, the highly simplified conception of the ‘world’ and the limited view of poetry as the articulation of ‘sweet sounds’. The language moves in what we must acccept as the right direction but in its studies avoidance of artificiality it is not immune from an artificiality of its own. The decorum is still provisional and unsettled and, towards the ends of the poem, lapses back into something like the old manner.”

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