At the Feet of the Goddess: Yeats’s Love Poetry and the Feminist Occult

  • Elizabeth Butler Cullingford


Yeats’s early poetry consistently deploys the traditional romance structure of elevation and abasement: the mistress is above and the lover is at her feet. “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” is paradigmatic:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams.

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams;

(VP 176)

Elaborate repetition and consonantal patterning establish the cloths of heaven as both the starry skies and the costly blue vestments of a priest dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Expensive formal and imagistic embroidery, however, is beyond the means of the “poor” poet, who resorts to chivalric gesture, spreading his dreams under the feet of his goddess as Raleigh spread his cloak over the puddle for Queen Elizabeth.


Romantic Love Romantic Poet Lyric Poetry Love Relation British Imperialism 
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© Deirdre Toomey 1997

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  • Elizabeth Butler Cullingford

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