Notes by Eliza Brett
- Published in 1919
- Can be interpreted to be about Yeats’ relationship with Maud Gonne
- Can be interpreted to be about the key Romantic idea of mutability
- Can be interpreted to be about how events/people are forever linked whilst yet remaining separate entities (see yolk/egg white parable from Plato’s Symposium which is also alluded to in ‘Among School Children’).
- The poem is about a dance and therefore the poem moves very rhythmically and repetitively, making it sound like a song to dance to. The strong, simple use of rhyme also helps to build the rhythm.
- Assonance and alliteration are used to create the soft but swift movements and the lyrical, childish tone.
Analysis – The distance between Yeats and Maud:
- ‘Black Minnaloushe’ was Maud’s cat (or Iseult Gonne’s cat…or Lady Gregory’s cat…depending on which source you credit); nevertheless the cat in this poem can be seen to represent Yeats. It is made obvious in other of Yeats’ poems from the time that he is unhappy with the fact that he never took enough action (political? pursuing his love for Maud?) and therefore believed himself somewhat predictable and sedentary
- ‘The Moon’ represents Maud; in literature The Moon is a traditional symbol/metaphor for women – the waxing and waning of the moon having long been associated with the menstrual cycle. Other reasons that Yeats may have chosen the Moon to act as a metaphor for Maud is that she was a traveller and a revolutionary – constancy was not her forte! Moonlight can also be seen from everywhere and therefore you cannot get away from it. Yeats almost feels tormented by Maud, not being able to get her off his mind. Yet she facilitates his own importance because her moonlight lights the cat – the implication here is that despite his frustrations with her, Maud is behind Yeats’ greatness. She is the muse which drives his art – without her, neither he nor his poetry, can exist.
- ‘The cat went here and there / and the moon spun around like a top.’ Both movements can’t be synchronised and therefore as also shown in Among School Children –‘The yolk and the white of the one shell’. They are two things which belong together but cannot physically be as one because their parts/movements are so disparate.
- It hints at the failure of the moon trying to learn ‘a new dance’ and be like the cat.
- Yeats may have been intending to convey to Maud that, although they are different in many respects, the cat and the moon are ‘close kindred’ and ‘nearest kin’.
- Contrast– the cat and the moon. The cat is “Black”, while the moon is white. Black and white are naturally obvious opposites, and show the distance between the two objects.
- There is a similarity between the two- their changing. The moon changes shape throughout its phases from circular to crescent, just as the cat’s eyes change ‘from round to crescent, from crescent to round’. The suggestion here is that although the two beings can never be reconciled into one whole, there are similarities which could bind them.
- The shapes change similarly to one another. This shows that although the two are different in so many ways, they are still ‘close kindred’ and can change with each other.
- ‘The creeping cat looked up’. This would convey the cat’s admiration for the moon, as it looks up at it at all times of the year. The changing of the cat’s eyes could also link with Maud’s changing relationships with various other men.
- ‘Tired of that courtly fashion’. Yeats expresses his frustration with Maud because he hopes she will stop and dance a new dance. ‘A new dance turn’, he shows his bitterness towards all her rejections, he finally acknowledges them and makes a stand.
- GYRES: grows and diminishes- constant changes in the moon, a never ending cycle of nature, mutability- round to crescent.