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Analysis Of The Cold Heaven By William Butler Yeats

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The Cold Heaven was a poem published in 1916 by William Butler Yeats. He was inspired by strange cloud patterns he saw in the sky when walking in addition to a verse in The Book of Revelations. Yeats presents the ideas of epiphany’s and revelation as something immediate and inevitable in life. He presents his ideas through his pessimistic and regretful tone; rushing through them with his lack of punctuation and free verse. His revelations also have biblical allusions where he critiques religious ideas and suggests Heaven is imperfect.

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The poem The Cold Heaven is an emotional poem fuelled by Yeats’ revelations of life, death and love. A first-person narrative makes the poem very personal as he writes about his fears. Yeats begins his poem abruptly with the adverb ‘Suddenly’, presenting his revelations as predominant in his thoughts and capturing the reader attentions. This suggests he has acted impulsively on his thoughts that have burst to him. It conveys a sense of passion from Yeats as he seems to have rushed to get these revelations out. This start reflects the start of Leda and the Swan: ‘A sudden blow’ which begins its poem similarly in the rushed and weighted manner which triggers the series of events leading towards the Trojan War. Starting his poems this way displays his revelations as instant and a sign of chaos, creating sense of movement to the poem. Yeats presents revelations leading to negative consequences causing him to question events in his life as he ‘saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven’. This opening line continues to show Yeats overwhelmed by his revelations of this dark and chilly setting. In the first section of his poem, Yeats uses the lack of punctuation and enjambment to show his thoughts are flooding to him as an outcome of his revelation; he cannot control the pace of his thoughts rushing through him resulting in a free-flowing verse of thoughts. This rush has leads him to question his relationship; ‘of love crossed long ago’. His thoughts have led him to compare his relationship to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. His love of Gonne has passed her by as they’re no longer young searching for love. This shows that Yeats’ revelations are an important topic for him to share and present his emotions on the matter.

Yeats is critical of religious ideology as his revelations are based on his thoughts of the after-life. The oxymoron ‘ice burned and was but more ice’ shows his revelation criticizes religion as if heaven is the opposite of hell it must be cold and unwelcoming; opposite to how it is presented in the bible. Yeats is suggesting heaven is imperfect in his revelations: how could it be so cold yet pure and divine, no matter where Yeats ends up after death, he will be unhappy as Heaven is imperfect. His criticisms of religion are also shown in The Second Coming. The title is derived from the Christian belief of the second coming of Christ from The Book of Revelations, however, unlike the Christian second coming what is born is a ‘rough beast’ to cause destruction before the new world will come. Both poems reference a judgement day which Yeats presents with the ideas that everyone should fear with its eventual coming. This is a more violent depiction of Christian beliefs than The Cold Heaven; the title of the poem itself contrasts the setting of the hot, apocalyptic setting of The Second Coming, but both are critical of flawed religious teachings. Yeats continues to question the irregularities of the Christian after-life: ‘and stricken by the injustice of the skies for punishment?’ The ‘punishment’ he refers to is what he believes he will meet in heaven or hell; Yeats views every outcome as punishment. His question is questioning God’s ability to judge people. This poem shares similarities with Broken Dreams. There are themes of regret and acceptance in his life, he shows his thoughts on after life and heaven which seems to be frequent topics he ponders. This shows that religion is a frequent topic which Yeats uses to fuel his thoughts and revelations.

Yeats draws conclusions from over the life he has lived from his revelations. ‘Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro’, Yeats is having revelations after rejection from Maud Gonne and about his relationship with her. She clouds his thoughts during confusion over what will happen once he dies. The phrase ‘to and fro’ creates this rocking motion which suggests Yeats is alternating between his fate in the after-life. Yeats’ references to Gonne also suggests a sexual frustration: ‘hot blood’, ‘cried and trembled’ and ‘rocked to and fro’. These examples show his passion towards Gonne which has been lost with age and how his relationship would be against religious ideas.

Another revelation Yeats has is in the second half of his poem, where things are much more slowed down. He fantasises of what death would be like: ‘Riddled with light. Ah!’ The unlikely caesura changes the pace and what is expected of this poem as he has accepted the fate of the future as ‘confusion of the death-bed over.’ His acceptance over his realisation may lead him to still question the after-life but allows him to have some control over his thoughts.

In conclusion, Yeats presents revelations as something important to his poetry and his thoughts. His use of revelations to spark and inspire new thoughts, shown throughout many of his poems bringing themes of religion and after-life. His revelations are also shown as immediate fuelling his thoughts as ideas burst to him. Overall, Yeats is able to personally reflect on his life and decisions and he finally realises the consequences they can have. 

10 Jun 2021

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