Adam's Curse

Text of Poem:

We sat together at one summer's end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats

And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, "A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world."

And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There's many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, "To be born woman is to know --
Although they do not talk of it at school --
That we must labour to be beautiful."

I said, "It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough."

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

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**Points about poem + its component parts: [[|Notes on Adam's Curse by Will...]]

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Final thesis: Since the fall of Adam and Eve, all things are old and weary, and only the result of hard labor.
Old thesis: Since the fall of Adam and Eve, all things (beauty, love, poetry) in this world are the result of hard labor. Chivalry once had a use in this world, but is also now dead.


At one summer's end, a female friend of yours, you, and I sat together and we talked about poetry. I said "It takes a long time to properly make one line; even so, others consider poetry be be quick and easy. It is harder to make a good poem than it is to get down on your knees and scrape the floor like a old pauper. One poem is complex compared to the noisiness of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen. They think poetry is useless, when they themselves clamor about useless stuff. And after I said this, that beautiful woman with us who has broken the hearts of many men said, "Although we aren't specifically taught it in school, every woman knows from birth that it's necessary to work for your beauty." I replied to her, "Yes, after the fall from Eden nothing the beautiful can be achieved easily. There are lovers who thought that love could be easily achieved by rote recitation and memorization from old books, and they sighed and quoted all day long, but it seems now that their efforts were useless." At the mention of love, the conversation stopped. Night came in and the moon rose, though she seemed like an empty husk exhausted by time. I wanted to tell you that you were beautiful, I wanted to love you the old way, by reciting lines of love poetry, but we just grew weary like the ever-circling moon.

Unfamiliar Vocabulary

pauper (stanza 1, line 9): n. a very poor person
precedents (stanza 3, line 6): n. an act that serves as an example for the future
marrow (stanza 1, line 7): n. soft tissue that fills the cavities of the bones and produces blood cells
naught (stanza 1, line 6): n. nothing
martyrs (stanza 1, line 14): n. people who suffer or die for a principle or cause
rote (stanza , line ): n. something mindless or repetitive

Allusions to historical events, background, and importance in context:

Adam's fall is referred to as the event that causes the life of humanity to be less easy. This connects to central themes such as work, making poetry, and even love is hard labor.
The two women whom he is speaking to are actually real people: Maud and Kathleen Gonne. Maud Gonne was a famous actress, and Kathleen was her sister. Since the poem is mostly a dialogue he had with Kathleen, with a part in the end describing how he loved but the love wasn't true directed to a mysterious "you," it can be inferred that the poet was in love with Kathleen Gonne.

Sound devices

Rhyming couplets (AABB throughout the poem) with a few exceptions, iambic pentameter

Literary devices

Metaphors an their relation to the thesis:

stanza 4 line 4: "Washed by time's waters"
A metaphor within a simile -This is related to the later metaphor of "weary-hearted as that hollow moon" generally describing that everything is hard work and that now all the beautiful things are weary and old.
The whole first stanza is a metaphor comparing hard labor to the creation of poetry (epic metaphor?)"stitching and unstitching" is a metaphor for the process of creating poetry last line: "hollow moon" is a metaphor referring to the previous simile.

Similes and their relationship to the thesis:

stanza 1 lines 7-9
"Better go down upon your marrow-bones and scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones like and old pauper..."compares hard work to poetry, which connects back to the hard labor needed to create anything since Adam's fall.
stanza 4 lines 3-5
"...and in the trembling blue-green of the sky a moon, worn as if it had been a shell washed by time's waters as they rose and fell..."
stanza 5 lines 4-5
"That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown as weary-hearted as that hollow moon."
These 2 similes describe the moon as worn, weary, and old, like the old ways of love and chivalry


stanza 4 line 3 "trembling blue-green of the sky" This is personification, because the sky can't really tremble.
stanza 5 line 5 "weary-hearted as that hollow moon" The reason this is personification is that they give the moon a human quality, weariness.

William Butler Yeats

-William Yeats was Born in Dublin Ireland in 1865. His mother Susan provided him with Irish Folklore that affected most of his poetry for the rest of his life. His father, a lawyer turned artist, was the foundation for William and his siblings into the arts. This combination of Irish Folklore and the arts defined him as a poet. Politics also affected his poetry, since in his childhood his mother Susan was a supporter of Ireland being under British rule, while his father John was a supporter of the Nationalists and Home Rulers. Yeats himself despised the hatred and bigotry caused by Nationalist movement even though he was a patriot, and his poetry reflects this period.
He attended the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin for two years. In 1889, he met the famous actress and revolutionary Maude Gonne, his source of unrequited love and later, inspiration for poetry. In fact, Adam's Curse makes mention of her. Throughout his life, Yeats enjoyed female company but was often shy around them. At forty-six, he settled down and married Georgie (George) Hyde Lees (1892-1968). They had two children, Anne in 1919 and Michael in 1921. He was appointed into the Irish Senate in 1922 and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. Yeats met many prominent and famous artists and poets at the time, such as George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. WiIliam Yeats died in 1939.


Stanza 1: The main point of the first stanza is to show how making even one line of poetry is a very difficult and understated job. Yeats even blatantly wrote down "A line will take us hours maybe". Then he follows up with an epic simile stating that making a line of good poetry is much harder than getting down on one's knees and scrubbing the floor like a pauper. Even so, other laborers don't appreciate the work put into making good poetry; they think it's useless. In reality, in William's opinion, their jobs are the ones that are quite useless.
Stanza 2: In this stanza, Yeats describes Kathleen Gonne's reaction to his beliefs about poetry. She points out that this feeling is similar to an innate understanding by all women that you must labor to be beautiful. In a similar way to the poems of stanza one, many men don't realize that beautiful women, Kathleen Gonne among them, must work hard to be beautiful.
Stanza 3: This stanza seems to say that the beauty of a poem isn't characterized by the recital of a poem, but the actual words themselves. It's starts out by transitioning from the 2nd stanza to the third stanza by saying "It's certain there is no fine thing since Adam's fall but needs much laboring." Some lovers thought that quoting out of books of poetry was beautiful. In reality it seams to be also useless. Thus Yeats implies that poems are unreal without feeling and passion behind them: quoting from a book will not relay this passion.
Stanza 5: The last stanza is an admittance of defeat. Yeats tried to gain the true love of the beautiful Kathleen Gonne, but he failed to gain her heart. He says that his attempt at gaining her love he had thought he was contented, but he had grown tired. The moon is referenced as no longer being a perfect heavenly boy, but rather an old, imperfect, and weary husk.

Is Adam's Curse Romantic?

Romantic Characteristic
Quotation or Example from the Work
How does the Quotation or Example Reflect the Romantic Characteristic?
Interest in the common man and childhood
"I strove to love you in the old high way of love" (stanza 5, lines 2 and 3)
This quotation is implying that the "old" way of love is not being regularly used today. In using the adjective "high", Yeats says that he thinks that the old way of love is much grander and idealized than the new way. This implies that civilization must have brought about devastating changes to the value of love. Thus when he uses "the old high way of love", Yeats is probably referring to common man who is untainted by civilization.
Strong senses, emotions, and feelings
"That beautiful mild woman for whose sake there's many a one shall find out all heartache on finding that her voice is sweet and low"
(stanza 2, lines 2-4)
This Quotation gives a very deep interpretation of Maud Gonne's beauty. Yeats describes her voice in a way that is very easy to understand, even if her voice is complexly sweet and low. He shows strong emotions when he says that her voice brings out all the different types of heartache.
Awe of nature
"And in the trembling blue-green of the sky a moon, worn as if it had been a shell washed by time's waters as they rose and fell about the stars and broke in days and years."
(stanza 4, lines 3-6)
First, this quotation goes deeply into its description of the sky by stating that the sky was a "trembling blue-green". Next it uses a simile to show the extreme age of the moon, comparing it to a shell on the beach that had been worn down by the ocean's waters for an eternity.
Celebration of the individual
"To be born woman is to know-
Although they do not talk of it at school- That we must labor to be beautiful."
(stanza 2, lines 5-7)
This quotation implies that the beauty of humans and their art requires a lot of work. Even so, nobody has to learn that they work hard to make themselves or their art beautiful. It is just an innate knowledge that women have.

Importance of imagination
"Better go down upon your marrow-bones
and scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;" (stanza 1, lines 7-9)
This statement is quite an imaginative way of conveying the difficulty of making great art, or in this case poetry. It allows one to accurately visualize the strain and difficulty that all artists and poets go through to make a good piece of work.
When one looks at all five aspects of Romanticism, one can see blatant examples of them in "Adam's Curse." Therefore, it is easy to conclude that "Adam's Curse" is a very Romantic poem.

Multiple angles of poem

It is odd that in the Bible, the fall from Paradise is always blamed on Eve, but the poem mentions Adam's fall and Adam's curse, and never blames Eve. Somewhat subtle, but there are three people discussing poetry. Though "I", the author, loves "you", the older woman, he also acknowledges the attractiveness of the younger woman with a voice sweet and low. ----


Works Cited:

"Adam's Curse by W.B. Yeats." The Beckoning. 18 July 2005. 17 Nov. 2008 < poetry/yeats/yeats4.html>.
Donoghue, Denis. "Adam’s Curse: Reflections on Religion and Literature." MagillOnLiterature Plus. 2002. EBSCO. U of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. 17 Nov. 2008.
Wachtel, Albert. "Adam's Curse." MagillOnLiterature Plus. 2002. EBSCO. U of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. 17 Nov. 2008 < login.aspx?direct=true&db=mjh& AN=0351000001&site=ehost-live> .
"William Butler Yeats." Ed. Horst Frenz. 1923. The Nobel Foundation . 17 Nov. 2008 < prizes/literature/laureates/ 1923/yeats-bio.html>.
"William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)." The Literature Network. 2008. 17 Nov. 2008 < com/yeats/>.

Pictures Cited: