Adam's Curse

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In the chronology of Yeats' life, his book of poetry "Into the Seven Woods," published in 1903 and featuring "Adam's Curse", came at a unique and pivotal time when both his poetic style and identity were changing direction. Although confined to the poem's idyllic, pastoral setting, typical of early Yeats, "Adam's Curse" begins to explore ideas outside the realm of Irish mythology seen in earlier works, dipping into contemplation of more personal concerns. These primarily addressed themes of failed love, the finite nature of life, and society's lack of appreciation for the work involved in creating beauty are all rooted in the Biblical reference to the story of Adam and Eve. It is interesting that Yeats sets his scene in an Eden-like context, outdoors and at the end of summer.

"Adam's Curse" is written in first person, and it is safe to assume the speaker is Yeats himself, through his reference to the effort required to write poetry as well as the fact that the poem speaks to a once great, now ‘weary-hearted' love. This second point is significant, given that Yeats' own great unrequited love of a decade and a half, Maud Gonne, had married Major John MacBride in early 1903.

Yeats presents the tragic themes and ideas in "Adam's Curse" with an understated grace, achieving an honest and affecting tone. The poem is written in heroic couplets, giving it a regularity of rhythm and rhyme that add to the speaker's gentle candor and create a sense of peacefulness, which Yeats refers to as "an alluring monotony."

The first stanza re-creates a conversation between the speaker (Yeats), his love (Maud), and her friend, a ‘beautiful mild woman', and immediately introduces key ideas of the inherent difficulty of beauty, and the lack of appreciation for the poetic process and product; ‘…A line will take us hours maybe;

Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Out stitching and unstitching has been naught.'
Thus, the poet's paradox is introduced: the greatest effort...
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