Poems of W.B. Yeats: The Rose

Poems of W.B. Yeats: The Rose Study Guide

The Rose is a collection of twenty-two poems that W.B. Yeats published in 1893. It was only his second lyrical collection, but contains many of his famous mythological poems. At this point in his life, Yeats was steeped deeply into the world of ancient Ireland, characterized in popular imagination as the "isle of saints and scholars." He evoked his legendary home country and its fantastical creatures with a poetic vocabulary at once lush and precise.

Yeats wrote these poems under the influence of Maude Gonne, his great unrequited love. Though Gonne resisted his wooing at the time of The Rose, her rejection of him was not yet definitive. Thus the poems in this collection lack the pensive sadness that typifies his later style, instead tending toward whimsy and wonder at the beauty of his beloved. Yeats' approach to Ireland in The Rose likewise reflects the influence of Gonne, whose dark beauty came to embody Ireland in his imagination; though Gonne was a fierce nationalist, however, Yeats treats his home country with a more mythic than nationalistic style. Ireland in the 1890s was a political place, but few at this time suspected the impending nationalist fervor that would sweep through Ireland in the twentieth century. Yeats was a politically involved individual at the time of composition of The Rose - for instance, he was a member of the Gaelic League - but he was not a radical by any means.

Thus his celebration of Ireland, as recorded in this collection, is largely symbolic and apolitical. The unifying symbol of this collection of poetry is found in its title: The Rose. Yeats uses the rose to mean a variety of things, but it always stands for untamed Irish beauty in one way or another. Ireland is called "Roisin Dubh" in Irish mythology, which translates from the Irish language as "the dark rose." His transfiguration of the rich natural and narrative history of his homeland into poetry is the unifying force behind the poems in the collection. Like its namesake flower, Yeats' collection is at once beautiful, sensual and thorny. Taken as a whole, these poems comprise the young Yeats' homage to his homeland.