'The Winding Stair And Other Poems' by William Butler Yeats

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THE light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
But a raving autumn shears
Blossom from the summer's wreath;
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams --
Some vague Utopia -- and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Many a time I think to seek
One or the other out and speak
Of that old Georgian mansion, mix
pictures of the mind, recall
That table and the talk of youth,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
Dear shadows, now you know it all,
All the folly of a fight
With a common wrong or right.
The innocent and the beautiful.
Have no enemy but time;
Arise and bid me strike a match
And strike another till time catch;
Should the conflagration climb,
Run till all the sages know.
We the great gazebo built,
They convicted us of guilt;
Bid me strike a match and blow.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Winding Stair and Other Poems by William Butler Yeats: A Masterpiece of Symbolism and Mysticism

As a lover of poetry, I have read many great collections, but there is something truly special about The Winding Stair and Other Poems by William Butler Yeats. From the first poem to the last, Yeats weaves a complex web of symbolism and mysticism that leaves the reader in awe. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will dive deep into the themes and motifs that make this collection a masterpiece.

Historical Context

Before delving into the poems themselves, it is important to understand the historical context in which Yeats was writing. The Winding Stair and Other Poems was published in 1933, during a period of great social and political upheaval. The world was still recovering from World War I, the Great Depression was in full swing, and fascism was on the rise. In Ireland, the struggle for independence from British rule had been ongoing for decades, with the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent War of Independence being major turning points.

Yeats was deeply involved in the political and cultural movements of his time. He was a member of the Irish Literary Revival, which sought to create a distinct Irish identity through the use of Gaelic language and mythology. He was also a founder of the Abbey Theatre, which showcased plays that dealt with Irish themes and characters.

All of these factors influenced Yeats's poetry, which often dealt with themes of nationalism, spirituality, and the search for meaning in a chaotic world.

The Poems

The Winding Stair and Other Poems is divided into two sections: "The Winding Stair" and "New Poems". The first section contains 28 poems, while the second section contains 11.

The Winding Stair

The title poem, "The Winding Stair", is one of Yeats's most famous works. It is a long, complex poem that deals with the theme of spiritual growth and the search for enlightenment. The poem is structured around the metaphor of a winding stair, which the speaker ascends in order to reach a higher level of consciousness.

The first stanza sets the tone for the poem:

I have come, alas, to the great circle of shadow, To the short day and to the whitening hills, When the colour of iris has gone, and that of the narcissus, And I have asked for nothing except the life of the soul.

Here, the speaker acknowledges the transience of life and beauty, and expresses a desire for something more permanent and meaningful.

The second stanza introduces the metaphor of the winding stair:

I have desired to ascend The hill of prosperity By the steps of easy virtue, And I have scaled the summit late.

Here, the speaker acknowledges that he has taken the easy path in life, but has come to realize that it has not brought him true happiness or fulfillment. He seeks a more difficult and challenging path, one that will lead him to a higher level of consciousness.

The rest of the poem follows the speaker as he ascends the winding stair, encountering various obstacles and temptations along the way. He is guided by a woman named "Phyllis", who represents the speaker's muse and spiritual guide.

One of the most striking aspects of "The Winding Stair" is its use of symbolism. Each step of the stair represents a different stage in the speaker's spiritual journey, and each obstacle he encounters represents a different temptation or distraction that must be overcome. For example, the sixth step is said to be "a dark concealed / Stairway to the tower / Where Dante dreamed", a reference to Dante's Inferno and the idea of descending into the depths of hell in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

Overall, "The Winding Stair" is a powerful and complex poem that rewards multiple readings and careful analysis.

New Poems

The second section of The Winding Stair and Other Poems contains 11 shorter poems that deal with a variety of themes.

One of the most striking poems in this section is "The Circus Animals' Desertion". This poem is structured around the metaphor of a circus, with the speaker as a performer who has grown tired of his act and longs for something more meaningful. The animals in the circus represent the speaker's past creations, which he has used and discarded in his search for meaning.

The final stanza of the poem is particularly powerful:

Now that my ladder's gone, I must lie down where all the ladders start In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.

Here, the speaker acknowledges that his search for meaning has led him to a dark and murky place, where he must confront the ugliness and imperfection of his own heart. This is a powerful and poignant ending to a poem that deals with the struggle to find meaning and purpose in a chaotic and uncertain world.

Another notable poem in this section is "The Statues". This poem is a meditation on the transience of beauty and the inevitability of decay. The statues in the poem represent the beauty and perfection of the past, which has been lost and can never be regained. The final lines of the poem are particularly haunting:

We who still labour by the cromlech on the shore, The grey cairn on the hill, when day sinks drowned in dew, Being weary of the world's empires, bow down to you, Master of the still stars and of the flaming door.

Here, the speaker acknowledges the futility of human endeavors and turns to a higher power for solace and guidance.


The Winding Stair and Other Poems is a masterpiece of symbolism and mysticism. Yeats's use of metaphor and imagery is unparalleled, and his exploration of themes such as spirituality, nationalism, and the search for meaning make this collection a timeless classic.

As a lover of poetry, I highly recommend The Winding Stair and Other Poems to anyone who is interested in exploring the depths of the human experience. Yeats's poetry has the power to move, inspire, and transform, and this collection is no exception.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Winding Stair and Other Poems is a collection of poems written by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Published in 1933, the collection is considered one of Yeats' finest works and is a testament to his mastery of the craft of poetry.

The collection is divided into two parts: The Winding Stair and Other Poems, and New Poems. The first part of the collection is a sequence of poems that Yeats wrote in the 1930s, while the second part contains poems that he wrote in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Winding Stair and Other Poems is a deeply personal collection of poems that explores themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. Yeats was in his sixties when he wrote these poems, and he was acutely aware of his own mortality. Many of the poems in the collection are elegiac in tone, reflecting Yeats' sense of loss and his awareness of the passing of time.

One of the most striking poems in the collection is "Byzantium". This poem is a meditation on the ancient city of Byzantium, which was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Yeats uses the city as a metaphor for the eternal, unchanging world of art and beauty. The poem is filled with vivid imagery and rich language, and it is a testament to Yeats' skill as a poet.

Another notable poem in the collection is "The Tower". This poem is a meditation on the passage of time and the inevitability of death. Yeats uses the image of a tower to represent the human soul, which is constantly changing and evolving. The poem is filled with powerful imagery and metaphors, and it is a testament to Yeats' ability to capture the complexities of the human experience in his poetry.

One of the most moving poems in the collection is "The Circus Animals' Desertion". This poem is a reflection on Yeats' own life and his struggles as a poet. Yeats uses the image of a circus to represent the world of art and literature, and he reflects on his own failures and shortcomings as a poet. The poem is a powerful meditation on the nature of creativity and the struggles that artists face in their quest to create something meaningful and enduring.

Overall, The Winding Stair and Other Poems is a remarkable collection of poetry that showcases Yeats' mastery of the craft. The collection is filled with powerful imagery, rich language, and deep insights into the human experience. Yeats' poetry is timeless and enduring, and his work continues to inspire and move readers today.

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