January is William Butler Yeats Month. We are commemorating this poet, who died on January 1939. This is the poem The cold heaven. In this poem, Yeats realizes that he cannot be with the one he loves.
From the start to the finish, this poem is one big, dramatic metaphor. The reason for Yeats to write this poem was very sad. This poem reflects the realisation that the poet would never get the chance to love the one he wished to.
In 1889 the Irish revolutionary, suffragette and actress Maud Gonne MacBride met for the first time with Yeats. Yeats fell in love, but she did not return his love. This poem is written because of this. It could have also been written for the daughter of MacBride. Yeats also fell in love with her daughter, Iseult, when she was 23 years old. At that time, Yeats was 52 years old.
“The cold heaven” is written in the first person narrative, thus making it very personal. As it comes to the length of the sentences: these differ, making this all very fragile.
Heaven isn’t something that is associated with coldness. When people think about heaven, it is rarely heard they are describing a place that resembles Antarctica or the North Pole. Cold is bot equal and opposite to hell. Yeats found himself in a situation where he believed that heaven, a place of and for love, changed into a hell. A cold hell. As heaven is also the place where people spent their eternity, it must have been the realization that he would not spend it with her, that made this heaven a cold and lonely place. Cold is also associated with a feeling of loneliness.
The process where Yeats changed his beliefs came Suddenly (first word of the poem). The ice burned him, also a good way to describe the heartburn.
But there is more to this poem. Some claim, that Yeats wrote away his sexual desires he had for Gonne at one point in time. The usage of the words hot blood, rocked to and fro are good indicators that there is more to this poem.
The cold heaven
Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?
— William Butler Yeats