I’ve had this poem stuck in my head for a few weeks now, I must admit. I know it sounds odd to have a poem stuck in one’s head, but, nevertheless, I managed it. I believe I had been thinking about the movie Equilibrium, with Christian Bale, which is essentially The Matrix but better (a friend of mine once ruined The Matrix by describing it as a good first half which devolves into a bunch of people flipping in slow motion. While I disagreed, rewatching it forced me to agree). Anyway, in Equilibrium they quote the fantastic line, “But I, being poor, have only my dreams/ Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.” Due to that line being stuck in my head, I had to go and read the poem, and then it kept popping into my mind throughout the day, until I decided the only solution was to write about the poem.
For the introductory parts, the poem was written by Yeats and published in 1899. The poem forms one of the many poems concerning Aedh, who appears as a forlorn man in love with la belle dame sans merci as opposed to the other two main characters of Yeats’s poetry, Red Hanrahan and Michael Robartes. Now, I must say that I am not actually the greatest fan of Yeats (one of many issues I have is that I am always mixing him up with Keats). I can’t quite say why; he does have some great poetry, such as Leda and the Swan or The Wild Swans at Coole, as well as a smattering of faux-mythical poetry which conjure a great feeling. Yet somehow he never quite comes off well for me. I read his poems and I enjoy them, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find a volume of his poetry, as I might for Dowson or Peake. Yeats is still, though, a decent poet, and this poem has to be one of my favourites.
So the poem. I must say, I do rather admire the repetition, and the form of the poem in ending with the same words (ABABCDCD), which is not an easy feat to achieve. Rhyming is one thing, but repetition without being tiresome is an entirely new game. The metaphor of the poem, as the cloths of heaven, is a rather enjoyable one, and the description:
Embroidered with golden and silver light
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light
It is such a wonderful description. While the constant conjunction could sound clumsy easily, Yeats manages to weave it into the natural rhythm of the lines, and creates this wonderful image of the sky. As a book on writing I once read said, part of the skill of a great writer is creating an image which enables one to think of and see the world in a different perspective. I feel Yeats has managed that here, and gives me pause when I read the lines, and makes me consider how the daylight and the night sky unfold like wondrous cloths.
As I mentioned before, though, my favourite lines are the end. What I love most about the line “Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams” is that, through a simple image, Yeats manages to display the real heart of the poem. While Aedh loves this person, and has even spread his dreams before her, she treads upon them callously. It’s almost a wistful prayer that Aedh mutters at his last, and it is well done. Despite the poem describing only the beautiful cloths, this line, and the one before it, manages to show the heart of the poem, while still maintaining the poem’s conceit, and working with the former lines to show us the desperate, love-tossed Aedh. The end is also brilliant, the anapaest rushing one onwards, only to dwell on the soft sibilance of ‘dreams’ as the poem fades to an end. It definitely helps portray the wistful nature of the last line, and, through emphasising ‘dreams,’ creates a feeling of Aedh’s desperation for the unnamed love.
And there you have it. Once again, I have cheated by choosing a short poem, but work and Honours have taken their toll, and so I feel I am justified in this instance!