William Butler Yeats' The Cap And Bells

2500 words - 10 pages

William Butler Yeats' The Cap and Bells

William Butler Yeats’s ballad “The Cap and Bells” depicts the behavior of love through an allegorical account of actions between a jester and a queen. Through the use of many symbolic references, the dramatic characters accurately reflect a lover’s conduct. Referring to jester-like men throughout many of his works (“A Coat”, “The Fool by the Roadside”, “Two Songs of a Fool”, “The Hour Glass”, etc.), Yeats continually portrays the actions of humans as foolish many a times. Coming to him in a dream, “The Cap and Bells” likely acquired its origin from the obsessive infatuation Yeats had with Maud Gonne. Being an acclaimed actress, Yeats most likely perceived Gonne exceeding him in status; her the queen and him the fool. At this time (1894) Yeats was also developing Irish dramas, and therefore his mind ignited dramatic thought even within his dreams. Like many of his poems, “The Cap and Bells” develops a lyrical tone full of emotion and images. Through this song-like piece, the reader strongly feels both the growing despondency of the jester and the eventual affection in the queen. Through his strong use of symbolism and imagery, Yeats suggests that love makes a fool of every man. From forfeiting the soul, the heart, and finally physical life, Yeats emphasizes mans’ willingness to sacrifice all the elements of his existence to feel the complete and irresistible passions of love.

Throughout “The Cap and Bells” Yeats constantly draws on symbolism to express various elements of love. With the whole poem existing as a subtle allegory, the author encourages a reader to interpret and search for meaning. As Yeats opens with “The jester walked into the garden” he immediately establishes the idea of foolery. Since jesters were lowly entertainers of Medieval Europe, Yeats directly prepares the reader for possible irrational behavior. The garden is also important in that it was the first place of affection and romance between man and woman (Eden). As the garden “falls still”, Yeats also depicts the harmony between nature and love; no disturbances occur. Continuing, we read how the jester “bade his soul rise upward.” Here, the man is offering his soul to rise to the queen who is above him both physically and in social status. It rises in a “straight blue garment” until it reaches her “window-sill.” With the color blue being indicative of hope and truth, Yeats implies that the soul retains an outer covering of hope as it rises. The soul does not rise in a curve-like manner, but is instead straight, direct, and uninterrupted by any forces which may sway its course. The window sill becomes symbolic of the queen’s spirit. As the jester’s soul rises to the ledge, it hopes the queen’s spirit will allow him to enter. As Yeats explains the owls who “began to call”, dualistic meanings develop; the obvious one being that night has fallen. On the contrary, this idea also implies the symbolism...

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