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Adams Curse Critical Analysis Essay

William Butler Yeats' Adam's Curse Essay

William Butler Yeats' "Adam's Curse"

The poem "Adam's Curse" (William Butler Yeats, reprinted in Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 2nd ed. [W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1988] 147-148) carries the theme of a curse throughout the poem, and ties it in with experiences in the text. "Adam's Curse" can make connections with three situations that are central to the poem, and they are the following: first, the "pain and hard work" (footnote 6 p147) of deciphering poetry; next, the "pain and hard work" (p147) of being a woman, and finally the "pain and hard work" (p147) of making love work. These connections create and support the central story of the poem, and give the poem its unique feel. The feel of the poem is helped immensely by the form which is unassuming, as it lets the story tell itself without interfering. Together, the form and the numerous examples of a disheartening plague create a solid piece of work that can make a reader's heart cry. " A line will take us hours maybe/ Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought/ Our stitching and unstitching has been naught…"(4-6). With these lines, Yeats sets up the situation of poetry reading and deconstructing a poem for greater meaning for his three main characters. They invest many hours pondering poetry and if this exercise does not turn up deeper insight, all their work of examining the poem from different perspectives and angles- hence the "stitching and unstitching"(6)- has been for nothing. The narrator and his companions define themselves by their work, and deep down inside of them their toiling represents the core of their beings. This sentiment is best exemplified by the lines "Better go down upon your marrow bones/ And scrub a kitchen pavement…"(7-8). The kitchen is normally seen as a cooking facility, but the narrator uses it as a metaphor for the location where one "cooks up" his/her thoughts and beliefs. Sometimes it is difficult to uncover deeply rooted beliefs and ideas, and it is necessary to "scrub"(8) through the "pavement"-not an easy task-to reach the heart of one's true convictions. Even though the three characters deem this kind of work important, "For to articulate sweet sounds together/ Is to work harder than all these…"(10-11), they understand that many of their peers have a different opinion of them. The narrator knows that he is "…thought an idler by the noisy set…"(12), but he and his colleagues keep practicing their profession. This represents a strong conviction and belief in his profession, because it is very difficult to "go against the flow" of the majority, especially when "The martyrs call the world,"(14). In this case these martyrs are the "bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen,"(13) and the narrator expresses that these men call things as they see them while they promote themselves as martyrs since they have the deserving and honorable professions. The narrator does not actually come out and say this directly, but...

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William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet with a serious case of heartbreak. He spent much of his life trying to court one woman, Maud, who didn't return his affections. In fact, in the same year "Adam's Curse" was published, she rejected his proposal and married another man. Ouch. As a result, many of his poems center around love and its disappointments. "Adam's Curse," one of his earlier poems, follows suit.

But it isn't just a love poem. "Adam's Curse" praises the amount of work that old-fashioned love requires, which he says is similar to the hard work that poets must do in order to craft their lines. The poems that result from this type of work aren't as "useful" as, say, a house made by builders, so Yeats thinks that poets are unappreciated by most of the world. As a poet, that totally bums Yeats out.

Apparently not all of our appreciation for poetry is dead, though, because Yeats went on to become pretty darn famous for his writing. He's considered one of the most important poets of the twentieth century and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923. What's more, "Adam's Curse" is one of his most successful works. Published in 1903 in his collection In The Seven Woods, the poem has gone on to be widely praised and anthologized.

So, there's some good news for you, Mr. Yeats. Despite what the speaker of the poem believes, some folks do still care about poetry.

In today's world, where the economy is unsteady and good jobs aren't always easy to come by, we are told to plan our futures sensibly. More new college students are choosing to major in the STEM fields, which lead to jobs in growing fields like Technology and Science, than ever before. Most people will tell you to choose a college major that is useful, one that will lead to a good job.

But what happens if you'd rather be an artist, or a poet, or something else not necessarily considered "useful"? You may face opposition from parents or teachers, who want you to get a "real job" someday. And even if you aren't an artist or poet, you can probably relate to being told to choose a life path that is practical, regardless if it's what you love to do. Tell the world you want to write poems or draw pictures of cats for a living, and there's a good chance most of them will think you are lazy (or just off your rocker).

William Butler Yeats could relate. See, things weren't that different back in his day. In "Adam's Curse," the poet is pretty bummed that society doesn't seem to value poetry as a legitimate profession. It takes a lot of time, he argues, to write a poem that looks effortless. Just take a look at his own poems, which use traditional forms that aren't exactly a breeze to master; it'd take hours to craft those lines. But, he says, society thinks poets are "idle," sitting around and dreaming while other people do the real work. As a result, poetry is seen as something of little value, and poets (like all the others who have dreams that don't immediately translate into cash) get no respect.

And we all want a little "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," right?

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