Study Guide

Adam's Curse Work and Idle Play

By William Butler Yeats

Work and Idle Play

  • Ever since the fall of man, says the speaker in line 23, we have all had to work for the good things in life. But some of those good things, like poetry, require work that doesn't look like work—at least when compared to physical labor. In lines 8-9, the speaker says it'd be better for poets to "scrub a kitchen pavement and break stones," because the world sees this type of labor as more legitimate than "articulating sweet sounds" the way a poet does. The "bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen" (13) are considered to be the real workers. But, as the speaker argues in lines 22-23, mankind has needed to labor to make something "fine" and beautiful since Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden. Therefore, as something beautiful, poetry requires work, too, even if the world thinks it is an "idle trade" (28).

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