Today I will be presenting on the poem “Broken Dreams” by William Butler Yeats. This poem was published in 1917, after Yeats’ last proposal to Maud Gonne. He was 52 years old when this poem was published. I will begin by reading the poem. As stated simply by the title, “Broken Dreams” this suggests an unattained ideal. It suggests something he seeks during this course of his life, but never could get. The title hints to the mood of this poem-melancholic.
The setting of this poem is not defined, and there is also no specific time, but time is rather represented as a stretching of time-a flashback of the past and a foreshadowing of the future. First person narration brings focus to Yeats’ feelings, opinions and perceptions of his world and Maud’s beauty. This is the only type of narration that would work for a poem of this nature-as it gets right inside his mind.
The themes of the poem are interwoven together as Yeats blends the passing of time, ending of youth, renewal and nostalgia together. In Yeats’ created passage of time, he reminds us of the incredible beauty the woman once had, but states that it no longer exists. He does this by saying, “young men no longer suddenly catch their breath when you are passing” (1-2). This passing of time represents the aging of a person. This poem begins with a reminder of the end of youth-with “there is grey in your hair” (1).
Yeats and Gonne met in 1889, when he was only 24. It was in the height of their youth that they met each other, but after unsuccessful years of trying to win her over, they are now old-lacking the youth they once had. Yeats hopes for renewal, making several allusions to heaven. “In the grave, all, al shall be renewed” (21) suggests death will bring back youth. He is nostalgic of his youth, in lines 33 to 35, “Where those that have obeyed the holy law Paddle and are perfect. Leave unchanged the hands that I have kissed, for old sake’s sake.” This suggests that in heaven, when he and Maud meet again, he can once again profess his love in their returned youth.
There is an irregular pattern of rhymes, and no definite pattern of meter. There is a varied iambic pattern in many lines of the poem. “For your sole sake-that all heart’s ache have known” (7) shows an iambic pentameter, and “when age might well have chilled his blood” (19) shows an iambic tetrameter. Not all lines have an iambic pattern. The division of stanzas does not follow a conventional rule, as they are all of different sizes. Divisions represent the progression of his thoughts. The first stanza introduces his once-seen beauty in Maud with prosaic language, or language that lacks poetic beauty-this suggests the concept of growing old/dying passions.
The next stanza is reminiscent about her beauty, and how even though it has disappeared through age, her beauty still remains a timeless quality. The third stanza is Yeats’ hope for renewal, which ties in with the 4th stanza which alludes to renewal in heaven. The final stanza moves out of his consciousness and is almost a snap back into reality. The lack of a definite pattern and irregularity shows his use of stream of consciousness. This poem is almost like his thoughts being recorded on paper-when one thinks, one does not necessarily aim to organize and sort ideas, but just tries to get them out. The impromptu nature of this poem further emphasizes the resentful mood of this poem, as he writes this immediately following his rejection-(without trying to perfect or organize it unlike his other works).
Yeats chose to write in a formal register, using simple words with big meanings-represented in his use of symbolic language. For example, on line 1, “grey in your hair”, doesn’t just represent the color of the hair or the disappearance of youth, but also his loss of interest. After Maud is unable to see through to accepting Yeats’ marriage proposal, he is no longer able to see this articulated beauty of Maud. Also, “your small hands were not beautiful” symbolizes the rejection. The small hands represent hands that were unreceptive, or too small to accept Yeats’ proposal. Even though there is no rhyme scheme, Yeats uses internal rhymes and assonances. In line 23, “leaning or standing or walking” puts emphasis on those verbs, and helps create an image in our minds.
In lines 8, 10, 12 end with “ache”, “sake” and “make”, these occasional rhymes help with the overall flow of the poem. Yeats use of repetition in “vague memories, nothing but memories” on lines 20 and 41 emphasizes the rambling nature of the poem. Similar to his choice of stanza division, the repetition is almost like his stream-of-consciousness. While reading this poem, I noticed two images that stood out. The “brimming lake” (32) represents a lake that is almost overflowing, which ascendants to heaven paddle upon. “Brimming” can also be used to describe someone’s tears, to say they are overflowing with tears. This shows Yeats’ resentment over Maud’s rejection. However, Yeats is also hopeful, always alluding to the image of heaven. Heaven appears to be a state that is free of suffering, and lacks the sense of self. Here, youth returns and Yeats is hopeful to finally reencounter his perfect vision of Maud.
There are also many instances of alliteration such as … , these all put emphasis on a word. For example, “burdensome beauty” almost says that beauty is In the final stanza, Yeats appears to move out of his consciousness back into reality to realize the many memories he has thought of. Line 40, “in rambling talk with an image of air” suggests that he has been talking to himself in much the same rambling nature of the poem itself. If I were to shape a rhetorical or emotional curve for this poem, it would start off flat, like the prosaic/monotone language, and the old age, but it would move up higher as he “becomes” more youthful and feels more hopeful, then it would drop back down by the last stanza. Talk about strange pace of time. End off with Maud’s confrontation, “If I had returned those feeling , the world would have been deprived of his beautiful poetry”