Adam's Curse (poem)

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Adam's Curse is a poem written by William Butler Yeats. In the poem, Yeats describes the difficulty of creating something beautiful. The title alludes to the book of Genesis, evoking the fall of man and the separation of work and pleasure.[1] Yeats originally included the poem in the volume, In the Seven Woods, published in 1904.

Biographical Context

Adam's Curse was written just before the marriage of Maud Gonne and John MacBride.[2] Yeats drew on a meeting with Maud Gonne and her sister Kathleen Pilcher.[3]


The poem is composed of three stanzas of heroic couplets (19 couplets total). Some of the rhymes are full (years/ears) and some are only partial (clergymen/thereupon). Ostensibly collaborating with one another, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd stanzas are linked by an informal slant-rhyme scheme (e.g., “summer’s end | clergymen | thereupon;” “trade enough | name of love;” “yet we’d grown | hollow moon”).

A quasi-sonnet appears with the 1st stanza, which is perhaps an allusion/homage to the “precedents out of beautiful old books” and the formalism of the eras preceding Yeats.[improper synthesis?] Of its fourteen lines, the first thirteen are unbroken while the last is made of three iambs. These, in turn, are fulfilled through enjambment and bleed into the first line of the 2nd stanza (i.e. “The martyrs call the world. | And thereupon.”).

The 2nd stanza shares its first line with the last of the 1st stanza and maintains a similar form of non-repeating couplets. Its final line lies roughly coupled with the first line of the 3rd stanza (i.e. the slant rhyme between “enough” and “love”).

The 3rd and final stanza differs from its predecessors in its length. Constructed from eleven lines (five heroic couplets), the 3rd is significantly shorter than the others.


Yeats serves as arbiter for his profession, condemning the view that beauty in art (and, subsequently, everywhere else) comes naturally. Rather, he supports the idea that beauty can only come about through great mental ardor. Pitting himself with the "martyrs," the poet speaks through a victim's perspective and provides evidence to support his claim. Yeats' poem, though at times mock-serious, makes a subtle plea for greater understanding of the creative process and those that make it their "trade."

See also


  1. ^ Cullingford, Elizabeth Butler. Susan Dick, Declan Kiberd; et al., eds. "Labour and Memory in the Love Poetry of W. B. Yeats" in Essays for Richard Ellman. McGill-Queen's P. 
  2. ^ Cullingham
  3. ^ Ramazani, Jahan, Richard Ellmann, and Robert O'Clair. The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. London: Norton, 2003. pp. 100

External links

  • Full text of poem, with preface by Robert Pinsky
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