Poems of W.B. Yeats: The Rose

The Rose upon the Rood of Time

Why does the narrator wish the rose to keep its distance?

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Yeats's hesitation to allow the rose to come too near can be read a number of ways. On the one hand, it represents his wish to sing about "common things" in addition to "strange things." He insinuates that if the rose comes too near, he will only write poetry about high, abstract, beautiful things - about the strange miracles of God. Yeats wants also to address common, lowly subjects - "the weak worm" and "the field mouse." Thus he expresses a desire to poeticize all of Ireland, from the field mice to the religious truths.

Moreover, Yeats' hesitation expresses his ambivalence about Irish nationalism. One could read his hesitation as expressing anxiety that if he communes to directly with the feminized Ireland he will be infected with the desire to rebel, and with a fanaticism for the dead which usually characterized Irish nationalists before 1916. The dead language to which Yeats refers is Gaelic. If he were to come too close to the rose, he suggests, he would write poetry in this ancient language, thus rendering his poems useless in addressing a wider society.

In short, Yeats wants to do justice to "the rose" - i.e. to Ireland - without fully identifying with it, thus leaving him room to translate his homeland for a wide literary audience. He wants to capture the spirit of his land without become overwhelmed by that spirit. He wants to celebrate Ireland, but always with critical distance.