There is not a poem out there that recognizes and discusses the appreciation of how hard it is to create poetry as the poem by William Butler Yeats, “Adam’s Curse”. But first, let’s quickly be schooled (just a bit) in Yeats himself. He was in love with his friend Maud Gonne. The only problem was she was married. He may have been writing about her. One never can truly know with poetry. We can beat a poem senseless with all our analysis and never really moved a full step towards the truth. And until we meet Yeats in the spirit world and ask him then, we will just have to make our assumptions.
The title “Adam’s Curse” is easy to understand. Adam as in man as in man’s curse refers to the biblical reference of his curse of hard labor. Men were cursed to labor and women were cursed to endure labor. Thus pain is the curse. In many cultures pain is considered a very holy and ritualistic element that is not to be overlooked.
The title sets up the stage. The first line sets the time...a close of a season. Two endearing friends are together and are discussing poetry. They discuss how writing poetry is in itself laboring. How hours can pass as they try to create a poem but no one cares of their hard efforts. It is better to do practical labor as everyone else because that is the only kind of labor that is appreciated. But they speak of their shared truth. The truth that is an understated grace. They know that even though a poem seems natural and easy it is much more painful and complicated than you think. This stanza is all about the poetry itself.
Next Yeats writes on the beauty of poetry. A woman must do so much to keep her physical appearance. It is not easy for her. But the kind of inner beauty and the beauty of true love is not something that can be gotten from books. It too is something that is learned through labor. It too is painful. So too is poetry. You can go to classes and workshops that teach you how to write poetry but the real act of poetry must come from a laboring from within you. It must hurt, it must pull and tug and sometimes force starvation and sleeplessness upon you to create the poetry. If it is to beautiful that it.
Yeats writes of the moon. Moon is surely a metaphor for the effects of time. How does time affect human love? Remember he was writing this for his love Maud. It truly was not a poem for you or I. This poem was for her ears. She was his lover, if not his in bed surely in his heart. Strove is another word that means labor. When you strive for something you must labor for it. You must push yourself harder and harder until you attain it. He strove to love her in the ‘old high way’ of love. To me that is the most beautiful line of the poem and yet the saddest too. I truly cannot say what Yeats mean when he penned that line but to me…well, I think he meant that because he could not love her as he wanted he chose to love her the only way he could…through the labor of a poem…something that so many do not understand how difficult, how laboring, how terribly all-consuming it can be.
It is a beautiful poem but sad. Can you imagine having that one person beside you who you can write with, laugh with, talk with, and just understand each other but yet…not ever be able to have them completely?