A mask of burning gold, that’s what the woman wears in the poem “The Mask” by William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939). It tells a story about someone who’s hiding her true self from the rest of the world.
About “The Mask”
This is the poem that is known by many people. In this poem, he describes a woman who wears this mask of burning gold. With emerald eyes. She’s hiding behind something and isn’t showing her true self. Or her true feelings.
There is a chance that she’s a rich person, because of the gold and emeralds. There is no clear indication of this.
It all comes down to her taking off the mask. Yeats is convinced that there will be only one option left then: they will fall in love and be with each other. It doesn’t seem that it’s a successful operation, because she doesn’t take off the mask.
When someone puts on a mask, it doesn’t have to mean that they wear a real mask. The appearance of someone can also be a mask. There are many reasons for people to do this. Self-protection or the fact that they’re not who they claim to be.
Another good reason, perhaps this may apply to this poem, is to wear a mask because of someone else. A former lover, that caused hurt and pain. How could he (Yeats) be any different from the former lover?
This poem was published in the collection “The Green Helmet and other poems” (1910). This book is available on Project Gutenberg for further reading.
The official title of this poem isn’t “The Mask.” It’s “A lyric from an unpublished play.”
“PUT off that mask of burning gold
With emerald eyes.”
“O no, my dear, you make so bold
To find if hearts be wild and wise,
And yet not cold.”
“I would but find what’s there to find,
Love or deceit.”
“It was the mask engaged your mind,
And after set your heart to beat,
Not what’s behind.”
“But lest you are my enemy,
I must enquire.”
“O no, my dear, let all that be;
What matter, so there is but fire
In you, in me?“
— William Butler Yeats