Yeats and the Courtly Love Tradition Parallels the Use of Dreams

As mentioned in class Yeats’ poem “He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” is abnormally formal and ironically the last poem he wrote before becoming aware of Maud Gonne’s relationship in France. The poems harkens a likeness to the courtly love tradition that requires an unattainable goal (Gonne) and the attempt to win said “prize” over with thoughtfully crafted rhetoric and often (empty) promises. This poem fits the bill perfectly, although it is interesting that the word “poor” in line 6 stands out so profoundly, as the courtly love tradition was often practiced by a noble class in which the woman was of affluence and the man, usually a knight or of a lower status. This forbidden aspect of love is what creates the possibility and excitement associated with the courtly love tradition and corresponds accordingly with the Yeats/Gonne relationship (or lack there of). It seems that Yeats already recognizes that he cannot gain Maud in reality and therefore can only attain her in his dreams, or through mysticism, the only gateway that Maud ever allowed their relationship to exist and so it would only be natural for Yeats to offer her his dreams, as they are more valuable to Yeats than any reality ever could be. This is crucial to maintaining Maud as a symbol, for in a dream she can continue to represent whatever Yeats wishes, it keeps her at a safe distance, which is the same end goal of the courtly love tradition.

One Reply to “Yeats and the Courtly Love Tradition Parallels the Use of Dreams”

  1. I really find it interesting to connect this poem to courtly love for, for Yeats, it is all about the chase of a woman that seems to intrigue him rather than actually having her. After all, when Maude finally offered herself to Yeats later in his life, he declined her hand in marriage despite the fact that he had written numerous love poems in which it can be argued that he was writing specifically about Maude. I believe that both of them enjoyed the idea of loving each other but never truly wanted to be together such as forbidden love often is. Courtly love, of course, goes hand in hand with this.

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