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The literary piece of composition that is going to be developed in this commentary concerns to the poem He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, written by the famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), published in 1899 in his third volume of poetry, The Wind Among the Reeds. In this regard, it is certainly profitable to advocate the conventional methodology based in the study of both form and meaning, in order to provide a wide and detailed description of the poem: how this rhythmical piece of work is structured, what type of elements take part of it, how they are combined and, most important, how those constituents interact each other conveying specific new ideas.
To begin with, it is convenience to start defining the character; the speaker of the poem is Aedh, who expresses his love for Maud Gonne. He appears in Yeats's work alongside two other archetypal characters of the poet in the volume. Aedh is a pallid, lovelorn figure of the publication replaced in other volumes of Yeats's collected poetry by a more generic "he".
Before starting with the analysis, it is convenience to reproduce the full poem, since it is indeed very brief:
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.
It is interesting begin by commenting on the aspect of form. In this approach, the eight line poem does not present any exclamation marks in order to guide the tone flow peacefully along it, nor dashes or monosyllables which could interrupt the flow. However, some lines convey a slight end-stop since at the end most of them indicate a minor break by a comma, colon and semicolon as punctuation mark. The author creates a soft rhyming melody carrying a tune, almost like harmonize song. The natural stress that is properly pronounced in each word helps to create the rhythm or pattern of sounds, A B A B C D C D. Alliterations in 'dreams', 'cloths', 'feet' and 'lights', repetition of sounds, indicate that this rhyming was intentional due to the repeated words. The tone along these lines is calm and peaceful. In this sense, particular attention deserves the use of the sibilants, nasal and 'L' sounds combined to "Embroidered cloths", "Silver light" and "Softly" as an example.
Focusing in the act of determining the metrical character of the verses, in other words, the scansion, the poem consists mainly of iambic tetrameter, although there are also some anapestic tetrameters 'and the dim', 'I would spread', 'on my dreams', some trochee tetrameters 'But I', 'Tread softly' and even spondee tetrameters 'dark cloths', 'half-light'.
As far as meaning is concerned, the poem of Yeats is absolutely rich and expressive. The author creates very clear visual images, for example, 'heaven' in which it is noticeable clear connotations of peace, serenity, paradise, happiness, a detailed image of supremacy and beauty; 'embroidered' providing suggestions of variety and perfection, an unlimited array of colours, for example 'The blue', 'the dim', 'the dark', 'Of night', 'and light', 'the half-light'. Throughout the poem, Yeats concentrates on those colours, especially different shades of the sky, its different blues, representing the passage of time or seasons constantly changing, but throughout all the changes the sky still remains angelic and marvellous. The poem creates visual imagery from nature surrounding it.
Concerning to the first part of the poem, in the first four lines, Yeats produces a detailed image of heaven, its greatness, perfection and beauty. In the following two lines he declares what he would do with those possessions. However, he is poor in not being able to give anything more valuable than love, which is metaphorically described in this poem as the speaker's dreams. The entire poem itself is indeed structured with metaphoric descriptions. Love is 'metaphorically' the central theme of those supposed 'clothes of heaven'. The speaker has only dreams, and so he gives them all to his love. He lays his soul bare by declaring his undying love for her, the only person who deserves such wealth as heaven, as if she were only good enough to walk upon.
With all this heavenly quality material, Yeats is exalting his love, he considers himself unworthy and humbles himself by saying "But I, being poor, have only my dreams". In a certain way, the writer unexpectedly becomes more realistic; being aware that he is not God and, as a consequence, he is not the owner of the heaven. His dreams are the only possessions of value and attractiveness. The last two lines denote that he has made himself fragile, susceptible of suffering out of love by showing all his dreams and desires to her, waiting anxiously to se her reaction. The ending line, 'Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams', is a strong ending. Yeats is gently pleading not to be rejected by her, being afraid that she would also tear his cloths and destroy his dreams, fearfully aware that this beautiful thing may not last long if it is not treated with care. She has his heart and dreams in her hand, and so, she has the power of determine his fate, his dreams coming true.
Further connotations can also be found in the last part of the poem; for instance, dreams must remain forever and that is the valuable love that he offers to the beloved, showing the speaker's wish to hand that prestigious gift to his love. It reinforces the theme of love, requiring full devotion, sacrificing all necessary for the beloved person. Dreams breathe as a powerful theme in poetry, something outside of the real world, and this woman obviously seems to have access to affect his dreams, taking love to a much more spiritual level.
To finish, it is noticeable that Yeats appears powerless before the woman he loves, in a certain way, contradicting the general male dominating attitudes floating around throughout that period. The extreme vulnerability Yeats shows in the last line is an amazing end.
As a conclusion, it can be argued that the poem has a poignant effect since many of the words used have a strong meaning about love. It certainly describes love so pure and so deep, giving so easy-to-understand words. This poem is a testimonial of Yeats' skill as a famous love poet and it surely has a long lasting effect with the readers.
The poem 'He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven' is clearly rich in imagery, passion and beauty, that is the reason why it has been used as source of inspiration in both the films 'Equilibrium' and '84 Charing Cross Road'. The poem is recited by the character Brendan in the final episode of season 3 of the BBC series 'Ballykissangel'. In 'Flagrante', the photographic book by Chris Killip opens with the poem. Even more, John Irving uses the poem in the book 'A Widow for One Year'.