But He, Being Poor, Has Only His Dreams

TapestryWmMorrisHe Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

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

Published 1899. William Butler Yeats, Irish poet.

 

Contour
The poem runs line to line, one long thread, on patterns of sound and rhyme. The single period shows we are not meant to stop at the end of each line until the end. The first cloths physically slides right off the tongue onto the enwrought. (Try it.) The silver light finds its rhyme mate night one-and-a-half lines down. In other words, Yeats is embroidering his words. He breaches a vigorous dictum of mine, to avoid word duplication, with a masterful reiteration of rhymes and words like light, feet, dreams. They unfold in a rhythm that carries us one line to the next as they intone a lover’s yearning.

Shape
The stanzas take on the shape of their metaphor: rectangular patches of cloth. The lines average nine syllables. Though soft, the embroidery is tight.

9 Had I the heavens’
9 Enwrought with
9 The blue and the
8 Of night and light

9 I would spread
9 But I, being poor,
9 I have spread my
10 Tread softly

Texture
This poor man could have declared, “If I had the heaven’s embroidered cloths…I would spread [them] under your feet.” But opening with h builds the poem upon a sigh, the sound of breath. We feel the dreaminess in the echo of soft consonants.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

The sounds knit smooth, silken cloths.

Attribute
The repetitions accentuate the simplicity of the poem that reflects a man with only hat and heart in his hands. Without means, he offers his beloved his best. An embroidery of words, as delicate as his hopes.

49 thoughts on “But He, Being Poor, Has Only His Dreams

      • Problem is with some versions of internet explorer and opera. they are working on it. They said to use google chrome. I logged on to it and now it is working fine. The like button and interaction button didn’t work.

  1. So it was an issue on many blogs? Sorry..could you test it on mine now? (Feel funny asking! But since you said you tried to like it….) Thanks, Toni. Someone clicked on the like this morning from his phone and tried to open a WP account, and got server trouble. That’s why I asked if it was a problem with my blog. My follow count seems affected, too.

  2. This is a beautiful poem, and a great analysis! I adore W. B. Yeats. My favourite poem is No Second Troy, it’s a bit darker than this one but something in it just speaks to me.
    ‘Why should I blame her that she filled my days
    With misery, or that she would of late
    Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,’
    Anyway, great post. Sorry I have been AWOL for the past week, so I’m looking forward to getting back into your blog again!

  3. Yea, I thought you’d dig Yeats. It’s a sweeter pleasure sharing reflections on him with fellow aficionados. What a GREAT ending to No Second Troy! “Was there another Troy for her to burn?” And no need to apologize! I knew you were extra busy if you weren’t posting — and I had no expectations of you as a regular here. =) Thanks for peeking.

  4. How could I have forgotten that THIS is the poem with that ending line that always stops my breath? I won’t forget it again, now that I have your exposition in mind, the two rugs (the stanzas) the embroidery of sounds and images tightly spun together.

  5. Reblogged this on like an apple and commented:
    Such a lovely poem, and a lovely analysis on a lovely poetry blog.

    He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven

    Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half-light,

    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dream

  6. Pingback: Unthreading Yeats…. | like an apple

  7. When something nudges so many of my senses, I am happy. The poem was alive, and your insight gave it even more dimension. Wonderful! I noted your comments about WP. The most unpleasant things have been happening to my account; I thought it was just me. Very frustrating.

  8. A beautiful poem. Often, we don’t appreciate the thought which goes into something that seems to speak so effortlessly to our very sensibilities. Some poets can, and some poets will spend the rest of their days just trying. πŸ™‚

    • You put it so beautifully, the grace of a poet in his, her process.
      Some can, all that others can do is just try…hmmm: I sense you’ve noted something big that extends beyond the art of poetry. Thanks for your time, D. =)

      Diana

  9. Diana, I feel like I just had an English lesson! Your original poetry in previous posts and your analysis here have opened my eyes to the beauty of poetry. As a side note, in high school (many years ago), I simply “did not get” poetry and therefore did not like poetry. Thanks for sharing!

    • Oh, that is so neat, Debbie. I’m thrilled to have incited appreciation for something that was alien to you. =) So glad you let me know. Poetry stands among the highest of arts, the way it can raise and connect us to the unseen and glorious. While helping a pupil in private instruction analyze this piece over ten years ago, my heart soared. It felt like heaven had parted.

      Xxxxxxxx
      Diana

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