Essay – William Butler Yeats’s Adam’s Curse
William Butler Yeats’s poem Adam’s Curse is about the difficulty of creating something beautiful, society’s lacking understanding of the work of an author and poet and the sincere expression of love. Yeats being identical with the speaker sits together with two other persons on a day in late summer. One of the persons is a “mild woman” (V.2), who is probably Maud Gonne as the poem was published in 1902 and Yeats was trying to win her heart in the years 1899 to 1901. The other person (whose sex is not defined though) could be Lady Gregory whom he first met in 1898. This constellation would make sense as these two women were very important to him and had a great influence on him. Maud Gonne was the woman who could reach his heart and Lady Gregory was the woman who could reach his mind. In this case, it is not of importance whether Yeats had ever sat together with both of these women at the same time. It can rather be seen as a unification of his heart and his mind.
The title of the poem already implies and supports the themes of the poem. The main theme is that it is extremely difficult to create and to maintain something beautiful. This could be seen in two ways when we look at the title Adam’s Curse. First of all, the title could refer to the curse that was put on Adam. Adam and Eve having been created by God were given the opportunity to live a life without pain and full of divine joy in the Garden of Eden. But when they ate the forbidden fruit, they were banned from this place and had to live a life full of hardship. On the other hand, Adam’s Curse could also refer to God’s creation of man. God intended to create a perfect, beautiful being, but his attempt failed. The human beings he had created were not able to deal with perfection and beauty and acted in an indifferent and destructive way. This way of interpreting the title supports the image of an indifferent, narrow-minded society not appreciating the beauty of poetry and of Yeats and Maud Gonne not being able to deal with their mutual love.
The poem has an interesting structure concerning rhyme and metre as these structures additionally support the theme of the poem. It is striking that all verses consist of exactly 10 syllables (the verses 14 and 15 include 10 syllables together), which could indicate a pentametric form, but not all verses are pentameters. Still, the verses that are pentameters are “perfect” iambic pentameters (V. 2, 4, 5, 8, 11, 16, 17, 19, 20, 22, 23, 26, 28, 30, 34, 38). Probably, Yeats would have been able to use iambic pentameters throughout the whole text, but through this inclusion of “imperfect” verses he supports the idea of the difficulty of creating something beautiful and perfect. On the other hand, it could also be seen as an attempt to break through the classic structure of iambic pentameters. As Yeats describes in the third stanza, the expressions of love should be sincere and not “precedents out of beautiful old books” (V. 27). In this case the metric structure would express that it is not necessary to stick to a certain meter or rhyme scheme, when you are trying to express love and other feelings. Furthermore, Yeats also includes “imperfect” rhymes (clergyman – world [V. 13-14], school – beautiful [20-21], grown – moon [38-39]). Interestingly, these “imperfect” rhymes always occur at the end of a stanza, which again implies the idea of breaking through old, “idle” (V. 28) rules that we should have left behind us and coming to a sincere and inartificial expression of love.