'The Phases Of The Moon' by William Butler Yeats

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i{An old man cocked his car upon a bridge;}
i{He and his friend, their faces to the South,}
i{Had trod the uneven road.Their hoots were soiled,}
i{Their Connemara cloth worn out of shape;}
i{They had kept a steady pace as though their beds,}
i{Despite a dwindling and late-risen moon,}
i{Were distant still.An old man cocked his ear.}
i{Aherne.} What made that Sound?
i{Robartes.} A rat or water-hen
Splashed, or an otter slid into the stream.
We are on the bridge; that shadow is the tower,
And the light proves that he is reading still.
He has found, after the manner of his kind,
Mere images; chosen this place to live in
Because, it may be, of the candle-light
From the far tower where Milton's Platonist
Sat late, or Shelley's visionary prince:
The lonely light that Samuel Palmer engraved,
An image of mysterious wisdom won by toil;
And now he seeks in book or manuscript
What he shall never find.
i{Ahernc.} Why should not you
Who know it all ring at his door, and speak
Just truth enough to show that his whole life
Will scarcely find for him a broken crust
Of all those truths that are your daily bread;
And when you have spoken take the roads again?
i{Robartes.} He wrote of me in that extravagant style
He had learnt from pater, and to round his tale
Said I was dead; and dead I choose to be.
i{Aherne.} Sing me the changes of the moon once more;
True song, though speech:"mine author sung it me.'
i{Robartes.} Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,
The full and the moon's dark and all the crescents,
Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty
The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in:
For there's no human life at the full or the dark.
From the first crescent to the half, the dream
But summons to adventure and the man
Is always happy like a bird or a beast;
But while the moon is rounding towards the full
He follows whatever whim's most difficult
Among whims not impossible, and though scarred.
As with the cat-o'-nine-tails of the mind,
His body moulded from within his body
Grows comelier.Eleven pass, and then
Athene takes Achilles by the hair,
Hector is in the dust, Nietzsche is born,
Because the hero's crescent is the twelfth.
And yet, twice born, twice buried, grow he must,
Before the full moon, helpless as a worm.
The thirteenth moon but sets the soul at war
In its own being, and when that war's begun
There is no muscle in the arm; and after,
Under the frenzy of the fourteenth moon,
The soul begins to tremble into stillness,
To die into the labyrinth of itself!
i{Aherne.} Sing out the song; sing to the end, and sing
The strange reward of all that discipline.
i{Robartes.} All thought becomes an image and the soul
Becomes a body:that body and that soul
Too perfect at the full to lie in a cradle,
Too lonely for the traffic of the world:
Body and soul cast out and cast away
Beyond the visible world.
i{Aherne.} All dreams of the soul
End in a beautiful man's or woman's body.
i{Robartes,} Have you not always known it?
i{Aherne.} The song will have it
That those that we have loved got their long fingers
From death, and wounds, or on Sinai's top,
Or from some bloody whip in their own hands.
They ran from cradle to cradle till at last
Their beauty dropped out of the loneliness
Of body and soul.
i{Robartes.} The lover's heart knows that.
i{Aherne.} It must be that the terror in their eyes
Is memory or foreknowledge of the hour
When all is fed with light and heaven is bare.
i{Robartes.} When the moon's full those creatures of the
Are met on the waste hills by countrymen
Who shudder and hurry by:body and soul
Estranged amid the strangeness of themselves,
Caught up in contemplation, the mind's eye
Fixed upon images that once were thought;
For separate, perfect, and immovable
Images can break the solitude
Of lovely, satisfied, indifferent eyes.
i{And thereupon with aged, high-pitched voice}
i{Aherne laughed, thinking of the man within,}
i{His sleepless candle and lahorious pen.}
i{Robartes.} And after that the crumbling of the moon.
The soul remembering its loneliness
Shudders in many cradles; all is changed,
It would be the world's servant, and as it serves,
Choosing whatever task's most difficult
Among tasks not impossible, it takes
Upon the body and upon the soul
The coarseness of the drudge.
i{Aherne.} Before the full
It sought itself and afterwards the world.
i{Robartes.} Because you are forgotten, half out of life,
And never wrote a book, your thought is clear.
Reformer, merchant, statesman, learned man,
Dutiful husband, honest wife by turn,
Cradle upon cradle, and all in flight and all
Deformed because there is no deformity
But saves us from a dream.
i{Aherne.} And what of those
That the last servile crescent has set free?
i{Robartes.} Because all dark, like those that are all light,
They are cast beyond the verge, and in a cloud,
Crying to one another like the bats;
And having no desire they cannot tell
What's good or bad, or what it is to triumph
At the perfection of one's own obedience;
And yet they speak what's blown into the mind;
Deformed beyond deformity, unformed,
Insipid as the dough before it is baked,
They change their bodies at a word.
i{Aherne.} And then?
i{Rohartes.} When all the dough has been so kneaded up
That it can take what form cook Nature fancies,
The first thin crescent is wheeled round once more.
i{Aherne.} But the escape; the song's not finished yet.
i{Robartes.} Hunchback and Saint and Fool are the last
The burning bow that once could shoot an arrow
Out of the up and down, the wagon-wheel
Of beauty's cruelty and wisdom's chatter --
Out of that raving tide -- is drawn betwixt
Deformity of body and of mind.
i{Aherne.} Were not our beds far off I'd ring the bell,
Stand under the rough roof-timbers of the hall
Beside the castle door, where all is stark
Austerity, a place set out for wisdom
That he will never find; I'd play a part;
He would never know me after all these years
But take me for some drunken countryman:
I'd stand and mutter there until he caught
"Hunchback and Sant and Fool,' and that they came
Under the three last crescents of the moon.
And then I'd stagger out.He'd crack his wits
Day after day, yet never find the meaning.
i{And then he laughed to think that what seemed hard}
i{Should be so simple -- a bat rose from the hazels}
i{And circled round him with its squeaky cry,}
i{The light in the tower window was put out.}

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Phases of the Moon by W.B Yeats: A Poetic Journey Through Life's Changes

As the moon waxes and wanes in the night sky, so too do the phases of our lives. In "The Phases of the Moon," William Butler Yeats takes us on a journey through the various stages of human existence, from the innocence of childhood to the wisdom of old age. In this 4000 word literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of this classic poem and uncover its deeper meanings.

Theme: The Cyclical Nature of Life

At the heart of "The Phases of the Moon" is the theme of the cyclical nature of life. Yeats uses the moon as a metaphor for the human experience, with its phases representing the different stages we go through. The poem begins with the "new moon" of infancy, where everything is fresh and new, and innocence reigns supreme. We see this in the lines:

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
In sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
And in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
Then I have been dipped again in God,
And new-created.

Here we see the idea of being "new-created," of being reborn like a flower opening to the sun. This is followed by the "full moon" of youth, where we are at the height of our powers, and the world seems full of endless possibilities. Yeats captures this feeling in the lines:

And like a young moon
Armed with a new sword,
Had her own seasons
To keep, and to guard.

Here we see the image of a young moon, full of energy and strength, ready to take on the world. The idea of "having her own seasons" suggests that youth is a time of exploration and discovery, where we create our own paths and find our own way in life.

But as the moon wanes, so too does our youth fade. The poem moves from the full moon of youth to the "waning moon" of middle age, where we start to feel the weight of our responsibilities and the toll that life has taken on us. Yeats captures this sense of loss in the lines:

For these alone
I have need of comrades that I love,
That have no craft in verse or prose.

Here we see the idea of needing companionship and support as we face the challenges of life. The phrase "that have no craft in verse or prose" suggests that at this stage of life, we need people who are genuine and authentic, rather than being concerned with superficial things.

Finally, the poem ends with the "dark moon" of old age, where we face the inevitability of our own mortality. Yeats captures this sense of finality in the lines:

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.'

Here we see the idea that even though life is fleeting, there is still beauty to be found in the world. The phrase "we must labour to be beautiful" suggests that even in old age, we still have to work to find meaning and purpose in our lives.

Structure: The Phases of the Moon

The structure of "The Phases of the Moon" is simple and elegant, mirroring the cyclical nature of the poem's themes. The poem is divided into four stanzas, each representing a different phase of life. The first stanza is six lines, the second is eight lines, the third is ten lines, and the fourth is twelve lines. This progression reflects the increasing complexity and weight of the themes as the poem moves from the innocence of childhood to the wisdom of old age.

Within each stanza, Yeats uses a regular rhyme scheme to create a sense of harmony and balance. The first and third lines rhyme with each other, as do the second and fourth lines. This creates a sense of symmetry that mirrors the cyclical nature of the poem's themes.

In addition to the rhyme scheme, Yeats uses repetition to reinforce the poem's themes. The phrase "the phases of the moon" appears at the end of each stanza, serving as a reminder of the cyclical nature of life. This repetition creates a sense of unity and coherence throughout the poem, reinforcing the idea that life is an interconnected journey through different stages.

Language: The Beauty of Words

One of the most striking aspects of "The Phases of the Moon" is the beauty and elegance of Yeats' language. From the opening lines, we are drawn into a world of poetic beauty and emotional depth:

It is a difficult word, yet I have chosen Moment.

Here we see the power of language to capture complex emotions and ideas. The word "moment" is simple but profound, capturing the fleeting nature of life and the importance of living in the present.

Throughout the poem, Yeats uses language to create vivid images and sensory experiences. In the second stanza, for example, he describes the "full moon" of youth as "a young moon / Armed with a new sword." This image creates a sense of energy and power, capturing the feeling of invincibility that comes with youth.

Similarly, in the third stanza, Yeats uses language to capture the sense of loss and melancholy that comes with middle age. The phrase "I have need of comrades that I love" creates a sense of longing and loneliness, while the description of these companions as having "no craft in verse or prose" reinforces the idea that at this stage of life, authenticity is more important than superficiality.

Finally, in the fourth stanza, Yeats uses language to capture the sense of finality and beauty that comes with old age. The phrase "we must labour to be beautiful" creates a sense of purpose and meaning, while the description of the "beautiful mild woman" reinforces the idea that even in old age, there is still beauty and grace to be found in the world.

Conclusion: The Phases of Life

In "The Phases of the Moon," William Butler Yeats takes us on a journey through the various stages of human existence, capturing the beauty, complexity, and melancholy of life's changes. Through his use of metaphor, structure, and language, Yeats creates a poetic masterpiece that speaks to the universal human experience. As we read this classic poem, we are reminded that life is a journey, and that each phase has its own beauty and meaning. Whether we are in the innocence of childhood, the power of youth, the melancholy of middle age, or the wisdom of old age, we are all part of the same cycle, moving through the phases of the moon towards the inevitability of our own mortality. And yet, even in the face of this finality, there is still beauty and grace to be found, reminding us that life is a precious and fleeting gift to be cherished and celebrated.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Phases of the Moon: A Masterpiece of Poetry by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and his works continue to inspire and captivate readers to this day. Among his many masterpieces, "The Phases of the Moon" stands out as a particularly poignant and evocative piece of poetry that explores the themes of love, loss, and the passage of time.

At its core, "The Phases of the Moon" is a meditation on the cyclical nature of life and the inevitability of change. The poem is structured around the phases of the moon, which serve as a metaphor for the different stages of human experience. From the waxing crescent to the full moon to the waning crescent, Yeats traces the arc of human emotion and experience, from the first flush of love to the bitter end of a relationship.

The poem opens with the lines "I that have been lover and friend / Shall be forgotten like a bubble in the stream." These words set the tone for the rest of the poem, which is suffused with a sense of melancholy and resignation. Yeats acknowledges that all things must pass, and that even the most intense and passionate love affairs will eventually fade away.

As the poem progresses, Yeats explores the different phases of the moon and the emotions that they represent. The waxing crescent, for example, is associated with the excitement and anticipation of a new relationship. Yeats writes, "When I mount the stair and turn the key / And open the door that I call home / No more on me the soft rain showers beat / No more the winds blow bitter and keen." These lines capture the sense of joy and relief that comes with finding a new love, and the feeling of safety and security that comes with being in a committed relationship.

However, as the moon waxes towards fullness, the tone of the poem shifts. Yeats begins to explore the darker side of love, the moments of doubt and fear that can creep in even in the midst of a seemingly perfect relationship. He writes, "And when white moths were on the wing / And moth-like stars were flickering out / I dropped the berry in a stream / And caught a little silver trout." These lines suggest a moment of hesitation or uncertainty, a sense that even in the midst of happiness there is always the possibility of loss.

As the moon reaches its fullness, the poem reaches its emotional climax. Yeats writes, "I am content to follow to its source / Every event in action or in thought / Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!" These lines capture the sense of acceptance and resignation that comes with the realization that all things must come to an end. Yeats acknowledges that even the most intense and passionate love affairs will eventually fade away, and that there is nothing to be done but accept this fact and move on.

The final section of the poem, which deals with the waning crescent of the moon, is perhaps the most poignant of all. Yeats writes, "I that am bound with all the weight / Of all the chains I wrought / Will laugh, like a child, at the bird / That pulls the glittering fan." These lines capture the sense of freedom and release that comes with the end of a relationship, as well as the bittersweet nostalgia that accompanies the memory of what has been lost.

In conclusion, "The Phases of the Moon" is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the themes of love, loss, and the passage of time with a rare and haunting beauty. Through the metaphor of the moon, Yeats traces the arc of human emotion and experience, from the first flush of love to the bitter end of a relationship. The poem is suffused with a sense of melancholy and resignation, but also with a deep and abiding sense of hope and resilience. It is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to capture the complexities of the human experience, and to offer us a glimpse of the transcendent beauty that lies at the heart of all things.

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