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W.B. Yeats Poetry | The Cold Heaven

winwoodedu | Wednesday September 21, 2011

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Context

This poem was published in 1914 at the start of World War One. It is about remorse over failure in love and the fear that this remorse will continue after death as a purgatorial punishment. This could be said to have links with the ‘guilt’ which is felt particularly by Irish Catholics. Some commentators have said that the failed love was for Maud Gone, but it doesn’t really matter for the readers’ understanding of the poem.

Structure

This poem is 1 stanza long, a total of 12 lines. There is a regular rhyme scheme with all the even lines rhyming. Again this is indicative of the control Yeats shows over rhyme and language.

Stanza 1

The use of ‘suddenly’ pitches the reader straight into the poem. This creates a sense of urgency. The phrase ‘rook-delighting’ is another example of the symbolism of birds; rooks are birds of autumn/winter, roosting in bare trees. Birds are frequently used by Yeats as symbols of creativity, youth, freedom and eternity. In Irish mythology rooks/ravens/crows are symbols of Morrigan, the goddess of war and death.

The phrase ‘ice-buried’ is used to emphasise coldness, an extreme of temperature. This links with the idea of love dying or being lost as a cold thing. Ice can also inflict a burn on the skin. ‘driven so wild’ shows the madness of love, especially when it is unrequited.

The phrase ‘every casual thought of that and this’ brings to mind the usual everyday things and thoughts. The word ‘vanished’ shows normal thoughts being driven out of the mind by thoughts of the beloved. ‘Vanished’ also has magical connotations, showing a link to the idea of lovers being bewitched by the object of their love. The phrase ‘left but memories’ sounds sad and plaintive. The ‘hot blood of youth’ recalls the passion of young lovers. Contrast this with the cold images in the first 2 lines. The phrase ‘love crossed long ago’ may be a possible reference to ‘Romeo and...


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