The Fascination of What's Difficult: Summary & Analysis

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      The poet feels that in his struggle to produce plays he has been deprived of the joy, the charm and the peace of his heart. His creative genius (the “colt” symbolizing Pegasus) suffers under the strain and
toil and drags along the burden. In other words, his daily dealings with so many different men of the theatre and the task of handling the plays, have dulled his mind and robbed him of vitality. To make his poem look spontaneous, he has to work hard—which is irksome. The poet concludes in a tone of mock anger that before dawn he will release his poetic inspiration which has been curbed, by the circumstances of his work.

Critical Analysis


      The Fascination of What’s Difficult is a poem from Yeats’s volume of poems “The Green Helmet and Other Poems” (1910). Yeats had become the Production Manager of Abbey Theatre in 1904. In the following year, he along with Lady Gregory and Synge, had become a co-director of a limited theatrical company. The. Fascination of What’s Difficult is the outcome of his experiences as a writer, producer and manager of the theatre—a subject he did not feel like romanticizing or glorifying when he wrote the poem (between 1909 and 1910).

Critical Appreciation

      Yeats’s life at the Abbey Theatre brought its own frustration. The ‘Theatre business, management of men’ represents one of those things which could tempt him away from his craft of verse. His literary imagination, accustomed to the ethereal heights of Mount Olympus, was now subject to dragging “road-metal”, or involved in the drudgery of dealing with men who were wicked, foolish or simply stupid.

      The theme of The Fascination of What's Difficult was a common one with Yeats at this time of his career. It expresses the acceptance, although with mixed feelings, of the difficult and the intractable; it presents the reluctant and ironic fascination with what would once have been ignored or immediately rejected. The construction of his plays, especially the Cuehulian Cycle, was a difficult poetic task for Yeats. Even at the time of his death, he was revising the last five plays. But the task, involving numerous poetic difficulties, held its special fascination for Yeats and kept him occupied.

      The poem defines the “unnaturalness” of art which, by the heavy labor it imposes on the artist, kills all the spontaneous joy of creation. To appear spontaneous, the poet has to judge the exact effect of the placement and combination of words. Plays have to be set up in fifty ways before they seem right. The constant revision involves hard and irksome work. The Pegasus of poetic inspiration which ought to leap and gallop on airy heights is weighed down under the heavy burden— it shivers “under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt.” One had to goad it to work harder.

      The poem reflects the mood of weariness and disgust that Yeats was experiencing at the time. Firstly, the marriage of Maud Gonne to John MacBride upset Yeats greatly, making him disillusioned and bitter. Secondly, he was faced with problems in his work as theatre Manager. Involved in the production of plays, he felt that his poetry suffered. Out of this mixture of frustrations is bom the mood of Weariness which “has dried the sap out of my veins.” However, the Poem ends with a vigorous curse on having to produce plays and deal with foolish people. The poet declares in mock anger.

I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.

      The style of the poem is ample evidence of Yeats’s development from “Celtic Twilight into the hard light of Irish day.” Dreamy, musical terminology (such “honey-place” or “wine-stained”) is discarded in favor of more straightforward but apt phrases such as “theatre business”, “natural content” and “spontaneous joy.” The thirteen-line poem shows Yeats’s poetic craftsmanship. There are only five rhymes in all, with the brittle monosyllables “colt”, “jolt”, “dolt” and “bolt”, placed with couplets between them, the initial “difficult” being a half-rhyme. The poem looks forward to Yeats’s future rhetorical manner with its counterpointed rhythms. Henceforth, there will always be a hard edge to at least some of the images in a poem.

      In “The Green Helmet and Other Poems”, Yeats introduces topical affairs and his own view and beliefs, as well as recording the emptiness of his passion. The poems are simple and increasingly realistic.

Critical Explanation

      Line 1—4. The fascination out of my heart—The problems of theatre-management and the task of writing plays are the difficult things which have attracted the poet. The strain of grappling with the difficult task has robbed the poet of vitality, energy, joy and natural contentment. Has dried the sap out of my veins— has deprived me of vitality. The practical problems have deprived him of joy. (But the fascination of intractable material keeps the poet at his task.)

      Line 4—8. Ails—illness. Colt—refers to Pegasus, the winged horse of the Muses; thus representing poetic inspiration. Roadmetal— indicative of something heavy and solid; in poetic terms inferior and dull verse. There’s something....road metal—Yeats says that poetic inspiration has failed him and he is, poetically speaking, undergoing a period of unproductivity, or producing inferior verse even after hard labor.

      Line 8—13. My curse on plays men—Yeats curses the task of producing plays, which involves dealing with and conflict with different people; villainous or stupid or troublesome. He is tired of this “management of men.” I swear before the dawn pull out the bolt—the poet is firm in his determination to release his poetic creativeness which is at present imprisoned by the circumstances of his work. The “stable” relates to “colt” (which signifies Pegasusyor poetic inspirations.)

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