Spoken versus Written Words in “Adam’s Curse”

In class we talked about “Adam’s Curse” within the context of poetry being a labor for Yeats that is unable to be understood by the middle class, due to its intangible and unquantifiable value to the self and to society.  During this discussion, I noticed that in the third to sixth lines: “And you and I, and talked of poetry./ I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;/Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,/Our stitching and unstitching has been naught. ” that Yeats details his work with a certain level of irony, immediately drawing attention to the many hours that he must have put into the construction of this poem itself. Yet Yeats says this in a quoted section, implying that he said this and the following stanzas. This simple “I said” thereby highlights the fictive element even further. These quotations, if Yeats has indeed labored for hours on making them fit exactly as he needed them to, so that they may “seem a moment’s thought,” intentionally undercuts himself so-as to make his own hours of “stitching and unstitching” naught and pointless.


This cynicism in regarding his own poetry works on a similar theme as the feelings of loss of love he has for Maud. After Maud’s sister replies in the 2nd stanza that women know they must labor at being beautiful – a noticeably short segmented quote that has no rhythm or rhyme, and distinctly lacks preparation and the labor of poetry – Yeats replies in another quote, working on the nature of beauty and love, which takes a full 3rd stanza. He thinks out loud that lovers usually “…would sigh and quote with learned looks/ Precedents out of beautiful old books”. However, this time, when he notes the natural tendency for lovers to quote things that are not their true thoughts, a tonal and thematic shift occurs in the poem. The rhyme scheme, which in this stanza was rhyming couplets, abruptly breaks into the final line “Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.”

This final line causes the group to go quiet. Time and the beauty in the scenery  both pass in the next stanza, which Yeats contemplates. There are no more quotes or mentions of spoken words. The final stanza has the line “I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:” , which again, deals with the disjunction between the spoken and written word, while calling also upon the original emotion and thoughts that precede their expression. With the emphasis on his subject’s ears, Yeats implies that he would be telling her what follows. Yet we as the readers never know if he actually did, or would, tell her of these thoughts on her beauty – which leaves us to question whether Yeats’s written word is more or less authentic than his speech or thoughts.

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