“He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven”
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) is widely considered one of the greatest poets of the English language, and received the 1923 Nobel Prize for Literature.
He was Irish and became a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival, a movement against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period. He was also deeply involved in politics and in some of his poems, in the 1920s, reflected a pessimism about the political situation in his country and the rest of Europe.
He studied poetry from an early age when he became fascinated by Irish mythology and folklore, and the occult. But, at the turn of the 20th century. his poetry grew more physical and realistic and he largely renounced the transcendental beliefs of his youth. However, his later work found new imaginative inspiration in spiritualism, in a sort of return to the vision of his earlier work.
“Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” is one of his poems, published in 1899
The speaker of the poem is the character Aedh, a pale, sensitive, Romantic figure of a poet. one of the three archetypal characters of the poet’s myth, collectively known as the principles of the mind.
(The character “Aedh” is replaced in volumes of Yeats’s collected poetry by a more generic “he”.)
The speaker, addressing his beloved says that if he were a rich man, he would give her the world and all its treasures. These are symbolized by the “heavens’ embroidered cloths”, beautifully decorated with gold and silver light., in varying colours such as the blue, dim coloured shade and dark colour. He would be willing to spread these cloths under her feet.
Yet, he is poor and only has his dreams, so he offers them to her. But they are delicate and vulnerable – hence ‘Tread softly’.
The use of repetition gives musicality and simplicity to the words, increasing the beauty of this brief poem.