Study Guide

Adam's Curse Quotes

  • Literature and Writing

    I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe;
    Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
    Our stitching and unstitching has been naught. (4-6)

    To "stich and unstitch" a line is to re-work it over and over until it's perfect. Yikes—Yeats says this can take hours, but he also says it should look like it took only a moment or it isn't a good line. That's a tall order.

    For to articulate sweet sounds together
    Is to work harder than all these, and yet
    Be thought an idler by the noisy set (10-12)

    The "noisy set" are people that let everyone know what they think: that writing poetry is idle, far more idle than manual labor. But the speaker says that articulating "sweet sounds" is managing to put music into words, and he thinks that kind of work is harder than scrubbing floors.

    There have been lovers who thought love should be
    So much compounded of high courtesy
    That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
    Precedents out of beautiful old books; (24-27)

    Books used to hold the key to love, too. The speaker clearly has high respect for literature and the art of writing, and considers any wooing done with "high courtesy" to be done by those who are well-read.

  • Time

    We saw the last embers of daylight die, (30)

    The tone of the poem shifts here, as the day ends. Yeats uses this imagery to connect time with negative things. The three become quiet and contemplate the effects of time on their lives.

    A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
    Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
    About the stars and broke in days and years. (32-34)

    Time has smoothed out all the moon's edges, like the waves do to a seashell. The imagery of time as "breaking" like waves makes it seem inevitable, even a little scary. Time has a lot of power in the poem, that's for sure.

    That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
    As weary-hearted as that hollow moon. (38-39)

    Time not only made the moon smooth, it also made it hollow. It also made our speaker, and the object of his affection, weary-hearted. No wonder he isn't a fan.

  • Love

    There have been lovers who thought love should be
    So much compounded of high courtesy (24-25)

    Love made of "high courtesy" is love filled with quotes and chivalry, says the speaker. It makes love a job, one that requires study and manners. Since the speaker believes that anything beautiful requires labor, love can be no exception.

    We sat grown quiet at the name of love (29)

    Love is so powerful that even the word makes them suddenly go quiet. This marks a turning point in the poem, as the tone changes from conversational to sorrowful, and the imagery takes a turn towards the pensive—all because of love.

    I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
    That you were beautiful (35-36)

    The speaker is addressing one of the women, and it's the first time we see hint of his feelings towards her. It's a hint of the heartache we see in the final lines of the poem.

    […] I strove
    To love you in the old high way of love (36-37)

    He tried to love her in a chivalrous way. This is the type of love the poem lauds, the type of love that involves manners and book-learning. Apparently, love is one of those things that, even with effort, doesn't always work out.