William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet with a serious case of heartbreak. He spent much of his life trying to court one woman, Maud, who didn't return his affections. In fact, in the same year "Adam's Curse" was published, she rejected his proposal and married another man. Ouch. As a result, many of his poems center around love and its disappointments. "Adam's Curse," one of his earlier poems, follows suit.
But it isn't just a love poem. "Adam's Curse" praises the amount of work that old-fashioned love requires, which he says is similar to the hard work that poets must do in order to craft their lines. The poems that result from this type of work aren't as "useful" as, say, a house made by builders, so Yeats thinks that poets are unappreciated by most of the world. As a poet, that totally bums Yeats out.
Apparently not all of our appreciation for poetry is dead, though, because Yeats went on to become pretty darn famous for his writing. He's considered one of the most important poets of the twentieth century and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923. What's more, "Adam's Curse" is one of his most successful works. Published in 1903 in his collection In The Seven Woods, the poem has gone on to be widely praised and anthologized.
So, there's some good news for you, Mr. Yeats. Despite what the speaker of the poem believes, some folks do still care about poetry.
In today's world, where the economy is unsteady and good jobs aren't always easy to come by, we are told to plan our futures sensibly. More new college students are choosing to major in the STEM fields, which lead to jobs in growing fields like Technology and Science, than ever before. Most people will tell you to choose a college major that is useful, one that will lead to a good job.
But what happens if you'd rather be an artist, or a poet, or something else not necessarily considered "useful"? You may face opposition from parents or teachers, who want you to get a "real job" someday. And even if you aren't an artist or poet, you can probably relate to being told to choose a life path that is practical, regardless if it's what you love to do. Tell the world you want to write poems or draw pictures of cats for a living, and there's a good chance most of them will think you are lazy (or just off your rocker).
William Butler Yeats could relate. See, things weren't that different back in his day. In "Adam's Curse," the poet is pretty bummed that society doesn't seem to value poetry as a legitimate profession. It takes a lot of time, he argues, to write a poem that looks effortless. Just take a look at his own poems, which use traditional forms that aren't exactly a breeze to master; it'd take hours to craft those lines. But, he says, society thinks poets are "idle," sitting around and dreaming while other people do the real work. As a result, poetry is seen as something of little value, and poets (like all the others who have dreams that don't immediately translate into cash) get no respect.
And we all want a little "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," right?
The Life and Times of William Butler Yeats
Check out more on the poet, who was quite a character.
He's Ireland's most famous poet, and that's a pretty big deal. The Yeats Society keeps his importance fresh in his native land.
Want more Yeats? Here's a ton of his poems, alphabetized and digitized.
"Adam's Curse," the Music Video
Check out this super-slick video for the poem.
Check out the area of Sligo, where Yeats grew up. It's even unofficially known as "Yeats Country."
A Serious Take
We just love this deep, rich reading.
A Different Take
This is another reader's version. We think the accent actually adds to the poem's effect.
Yeats Does Yeats
Check out this super-rare and awesome recording of the poet himself.
Here's Yeats himself, with a killer pair of spectacles.
This is Maud Gonne, the object of Yeats' (unrequited) affection.
Casual Talk in Poetry
Check out this article about Yeats' tone in "Adam's Curse."
This comes courtesy of the NY Times.
This article shows how his influence is still felt in Ireland, and elsewhere.
The Collected Works
Get all the poems, in one handy (and big) book.