Wb Yeats Cloths Of Heaven Analysis Essay

“A picture is worth a thousand words” goes the cliché saying. Yet in some instances, a word inspires a thousand pictures in the imagination. In the case of William B. Yeats, his unyielding, relentless appeal to the imagination through the use of colorful descriptions, and the simplicity of brevity invite the reader to journey with this poet to the depths of emotion he felt as he penned each word. This is particularly true in his poem titled “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”, an artistic creation that is full of more emotion in any single line than many books in this generation can display in their vast pages. The poem appears to have been inspired by love, one side of a conversation between a man and the woman he loves that eagerly awaits a response. It seems that Yeats have written it for a woman he was in love with, but felt he had nothing with which to impress her, no silver nor gold nor the finer things. Failing to offer her great riches, he offers her something that no one could put a price on, his most treasured possession, the one thing no one could buy nor take from him, the most precious gift only he could give freely to the one he loved, his dreams. He offers his would be lover an invitation to share in his most intimate longings, hopes and desires. He offers an open heart and true intimacy in what he puts simply as his “dreams.” It is highly likely that Yeats wrote his poem to parallel the happenings in his own life, thus, for the sake of love; the poet exposed his own personal life, which helps the reader to connect with him more.

The Depths of Emotion in “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”

“He wishes for the cloths of Heaven” is a short poem, only eight lines long, but possesses still, depth and meaning. Born of an Irish father and mother, Yeats grew up mostly rich and led a relatively comfortable life. It is believed he fell in love with and courted a woman, Maud Gonne for nearly three decades, before discovering her involvement with another man. (Poetry Foundation Web) Perhaps this long term rejection explains the feelings of inadequacy voiced in the opening lines of the poem, in which he declares that if he had the world, and all its riches, he would lay them under her feet just to have her love him back.

 In the first half of the poem, Yeats invites the reader into his thought process about the situation he is facing, that is, loving a woman who may be reluctant to love him back.

“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...”

Declaration of Love, Desires and Ambitions in Poem

Yeats describes the most beautiful things he could think of, and that would also resonate with the reader as being beautiful. He expresses heaven as “embroidered cloths” made of “gold and silver light”. The ultimate reward becomes something tangible that could be cut and given off. The “heavens embroidered cloths,” would give more beauty to the receiver than anything they would already possess. He then goes on to describe what the cloths may look like, juxtaposing “the blue, the dim and the dark cloths,” with “of night, and light and the half light”( 3-4) howbeit not quite in the respective order. “The blue” could be understood as “the light”, blue being a color representing royalty, desirable and radiant. “The dim” could represent the “half – light”, as a half light would not give off brightness, but would be dim in comparison to full light, and finally “The dark cloths” could be likened to night. In these two lines, he describes all the possible shades the heavens could display in a single day during dawn (dim cloths, half light), daytime (the blue, the light) and night time (The dark cloths, night). He wishes to offer heaven in its entirety, and all its changeability. These cloths include all a lover could ever desire. He concludes the first half of the poem by telling his heart’s desire that he would spread all under her feet. His love is so strong that he would willingly let her walk all over all he possesses, “I would spread the cloths under your feet” (5). This means that all the riches o f the world would mean nothing to him, and would be reduced to something to be trodden underfoot in comparison to him gaining her love. Her love would be to him a priceless possession.

The second half, the reader acquaints with Yeats’ condition in life, “But I being poor...” (6). His only possessions in life are his dreams, which are the only offering he comes bearing with his declaration of love, the most valuable of things, the most intimate, his desires and ambitions. The poem ends with a stipulation,

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams; 
I have spread my dreams under your feet; 
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams” (6-8).

Vulnerability as a Mark of True Love

Yeats allows the reader to see that he has neither these beautiful things nor the money nor means to afford them, something his love interest probably already knows. Giving all he has leaves him vulnerable, which is a mark of true love. There is no self preservation with true love. He knows his only chance is to give his all or nothing at all. Although he is vulnerable, he is not completely careless. He pleads with the woman to be careful of his heart, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”(8). His expression of his desire for her love was the act of “spreading his dreams under her feet”. This exposed his heart to possible disappointment or rejection, because he has nothing else to offer and it is uncertain whether his love alone is enough to induce a desirable response from her. The only protection for his heart is the appeal to her humanity to “tread softly”. Thus, the poem ends, with a desperate eagerness for a response. The reader wonders what it will be, will the poet’s heart be broken, his dreams destroyed by the woman’s careless treading upon his dreams. Or will the outcome be more favorable? Will she heed the cry from the heart of a poor man in love and softly handle his dream to be with her? A likely response may be found in one of his other works, “Never Give all the Heart” (Yeats 79), where he writes, “Never give all the heart, / for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of / To passionate women if it seem/
Certain,.../  For everything that's lovely is / But a brief, dreamy, kind delight...”

“He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” is a truly captivating poem, thoughtfully written to leave the reader desiring a conclusion, yet never fulfilling that desire. Yeats grew up rather privileged and went on to become a successful poet and to establish theatres in Ireland. His description of himself as being poor may have been a result of his feeling impoverished for lacking the love of his heart’s desire, hence his declaration that he would freely give all just to have her. It is a wonderful composition which many have attributed to his failed courtship of Maud Gonne. Nevertheless, it captures the struggle of every person that has ever been in love with one who would not love them back. It is a poem that transcends time to speak even to the most modern people.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

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.

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An introduction to the poem ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ by W. B. Yeats

‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ is one of W. B. Yeats‘s (1865-1939) most popular poems. It’s also one of his shortest – just eight lines in all. Since we started to offer our own close analysis of short English poems that we believe repay closer attention, we’ve offered, among others, a short analysis of a Wilfred Owen poem, ‘Futility’. Now, it’s Yeats’s turn. So first, here’s the poem.

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.

Interestingly, when the poem was first published in Yeats’s third volume of poems, The Wind among the Reeds, in 1899, it appeared under the title ‘Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’, Aedh being the speaker of the poem – a pale, sensitive, Keatsian, Romantic figure of a poet. This suggests that we are supposed to view the poem itself as slightly tongue-in-cheek, a somewhat over-the-top declaration (which casts Aedh as a sort of Sir Walter Raleigh of poetry, figuratively spreading his cloak of dreams beneath the female addressee, as Sir Walter was supposed to have laid his cloak over a puddle for Queen Elizabeth I). Even with the later change in title to ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’, there is something in that title – with the use of the present tense and third-person pronoun suggesting something of the stage direction – that renders it slightly ironic.

The message is straightforward, and a perennial one in poetry (and, indeed, song lyrics). The speaker, addressing his lover or would-be lover, says: if I were a rich man, I’d give you the world and all its treasures. If I were a god, I could take the heavenly sky and make a blanket out of it for you. (This is similar to the sentiment expressed by the speaker of T. E. Hulme’s ‘The Embankment’.) But I’m only a poor man, and obviously the idea of making the sky into a blanket is silly and out of the question, so all I have of any worth are my dreams. And dreams are delicate and vulnerable – hence ‘Tread softly’.

This is a rather old idea, but what helps to make the poem striking and memorable is its use of repetition of key words: cloths (three times), dreams (three times), light (three times), spread (twice), tread (twice), under your feet (twice). (And, if we include the title, you might add an extra ‘cloths’ and count ‘heaven’ as one of the repeated words.) The rhyme of the poem supports this repetition: technically, there are no rhymes as such, merely the same words repeated at the end of lines: cloths, light, feet, dreams. This gives the words of the poem a simplicity but also a sense of familiarity, even banality: the poet is reduced to finding slightly different ways of saying the same thing. But playing off this rhyme-that-is-not-rhyme at the end of the lines is the internal rhyme: ‘Of night and light and the half light‘, ‘I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread softly because you tread on my dreams’. Because this involves words which are themselves repeated, it shifts the expected rhyme (e.g. night and light at the end of the lines) to the middle of the lines, highlighting that things are not as the poet would wish them to be.

Perhaps its brevity and simplicity is one reason why this Yeats poem is so loved; but our aim in this short analysis of the poem has been to bring home some of the subtler things at work in it. If you like ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’, you might also like ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree‘, our analysis of ‘The Second Coming’, our summary of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, and our commentary on ‘Leda and the Swan’. We have more about Yeats’s beliefs here.

The best edition of Yeats’s essential poetry (and some of his prose and dramatic works) is The Major Works including poems, plays, and critical prose (Oxford World’s Classics). It also has a very helpful introduction and copious notes.

Or if you’re looking for your next poet to discover, check out our pick of Robert Burns’s best poems and the greatest Thomas Hardy poems. Our advice on how to write an English essay might also be of interest.

Image: W. B. Yeats in 1911, by George Charles Beresford; Wikimedia Commons.

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