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ISSN : 1226-4946(Print)
ISSN : 2288-5412(Online)
The Yeats Journal of Korea Vol.33 pp.95-115

The Rose Opening Poem and the Secret of the Structure of The Rose

Yoo Baekyun


One of the most important characteristic features of Yeats’s book of poemsinvolves the fact that the poet intended his entire volumes of his poems to functionas a single, unified work of art. In other words, the meaning of an individual poemin any Yeats’s book of poems cannot be fully appreciated without considering itsrelationship with the poems placed right next to it. Talking about one individualpoem alone in a volume is like interpreting one chapter of a novel without linkingits meaning to the next chapters. For this reason, understanding Yeats’s poemsrequires looking into a relationship between the poems and the principle ofarranging the entire poems in a book of poems. In this paper, what I am trying toachieve is to answer the following three questions. First, what is a governingprinciple of ordering poems in Yeats’s second book of poems, The Rose (1983)?Second, how such a structure or an arrangement helps to convey the thematicconcern of The Rose effectively? Lastly, how Yeats develops himself as a poet afterpublishing his first book of Poems Crossways (1889). When we compare themethod of ordering The Rose poems with that of Crossways, we see that Yeatsslowly matures as a poet as he ages. Crossways consists of two groups of poemseach with a religious and political context, respectively. In the first group, Yeatsplaces poems dealing with balancing the conflicting forces of action and stasis, theideal and the real, and imagination and actuality. The second group includes poemsbalancing private and public, past and present, and Catholic and Protestant, high andlow classes, and unionists and nationalists. Yeats’s ultimate message: just as weneed a reconciliation of opposing religious elements, so we should achieve aharmony of different political groups. The Rose, on the other hand, reminds us of a kind of well-structured drama with the prologue poem working as the first act of aplay. The first poem holds the key to the arrangement of 23 poems in The Rose.In other words, each line of “The Rose upon the Rood of Time” foretells how theentire 23 poems will be placed and foregrounds the main message of the book ofpoems. The first poem talks about a reconciliation of opposing forces and thismessage is repeated throughout the book by dealing with the idea of balancing twoantinomian ideas. In addition, the time of each poem moves in-between the presentand the past and eventually advances into the future, as is foreshadowed in thepreface poem. The presence of the poet can also be felt throughout the book ofpoems. In The Rose, we meet a poet who keeps emphasizing the importance ofmaintaining a balance between mysticism and realism, reconciling his joy of loveand pain of his failure, and announcing his love of Ireland or his nationalist ideals.Through The Rose, Yeats repeats the importance of balancing religion, people, andlove. Although the second book of poems contains different poems and structuralpattern compared with the first book of poems, his basic message remains the same:mysticism should be reconciled with realism and nationalism.

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