The Apple on the Bough Most Out of Reach: Maud Gonne

Joseph M. Hassett

in W.B. Yeats and the Muses

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780199582907
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191723216 | DOI:
The Apple on the Bough Most Out of Reach: Maud Gonne

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Yeats's poems about Maud Gonne were consciously written in the courtly love tradition, the old high way of love, as he called it in Adam's Curse, Reading these poems as part of the courtly love tradition explains how Yeats found the endurance required for a nearly fruitless, twenty‐eight‐year pursuit of Gonne. Her unattainability was a sine qua non of the courtly tradition, in which to win the beloved is to lose her. Gonne understood this perfectly. In rejecting one of Yeats's proposals, she focused sharply on her role as Muse, saying ‘You make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry.’ Yeats's deeply moving poem Words meditates on his understanding that the turmoil engendered by his Muse powered his poetic engine, and that, were it not for the turmoil, there might have been no poetry: ‘I might have thrown poor words away/And been content to live.’ Chapter 3 explores Yeats's memorable poems to Gonne in terms of the differing ways she functioned as Muse over the course of their long relationship. Readings of classic poems about Gonne show how Yeats propelled his poetic career by casting himself as Dante to Gonne's Beatrice and using what he memorably called ‘the suffering of desire’ to open the door to inspiration. Chapter 3 shows how the various Gonne poems arranged themselves around Yeats's conclusion that, by his forty‐ninth year, ‘for a barren passion's sake,’ he had no child, but he did have a ‘book’ — a formidable corpus of poetry fashioned from the agony of desire.

Keywords: Maud Gonne; Adam's curse; courtly love tradition; Dante; suffering of desire; words; Muse

Chapter.  15042 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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