Performance in Love and Poetry in “Never give all the Heart”

So I just read Yeats’ “Never give all the Heart” and thought it was an interesting play on the Shakespearean sonnet. In this poem Yeats addresses the performative aspect of attraction, and love. The speaker is wary of his object of attraction due to his assertion in the first few lines to “Never give all the heart, for love / Will hardly seem worth thinking of / To passionate women if it seem / Certain” (1-4). In other words, the speaker thinks that women don’t like guys who are too desperate. The speaker then reiterates, “O never give the heart outright, / For they… / Have given their hearts up to the play” (8-10), meaning that love is a performance and a game. Next he asks, “And who could play it well enough / If deaf and dumb and blind with love?” ¬†Love and desire depend on a performance, but if you’re actually in love you can’t play the game well enough to attain your love. Though, the point I want to make is that this performance idea becomes interesting in the context of a Shakespearean sonnet, which in my opinion is the most performative poetic form due to its long history and staple in english poetry. The speaker recognizes that love needs to be “played well enough” to ¬†attain the woman of his desire. Similarly, poetry must be “played well enough” to be good poetry, and, as with love, trying too hard comes off as desperate and no one’s attracted to that. The poem is written in sonnet form as an ironic example of poetry that tries too hard to play well enough and comes off as desperate and obvious. This also explains the rhyme scheme’s (AABBCCDDEEAAGG) divergence from the typical ABABCDCDEFEFGG, as a lame attempt to mix up the sonnet in order to play it well.

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