Name: Bianca Stone
Hometown: Middlebury, Vermont
Current city: Brandon/Goshen, Vermont
Occupation: Poet and visual artist; creative director at the Ruth Stone Foundation
What does poetry mean to you?
There is something so ubiquitous about poetry to me. It touches everything in my life. And partly that is an abstract idea in my mind, how poetry is, as sort of entity or force that is trying to articulate itself at all times, through language, the phenomenon of life on this planet. But there is also the societal nature of poetry, that I come to these books each day by real people, and see their author photo, I know them or not, I see that they are in a place, living and working and making poetry; I read their words that actually are a result of their unique experiences—and that is different from my own poetry meaning. It is the poetry that is oneself, and the poetry one is given by others. Two amazing branches of what poetry is to me. And every year my ideas of what it is to write and experience poetry expand. I feel like it is a kind of endless research into meaning and sense and music. I am so grateful for all the different ways we do it. I am so proud of humanity for making art. That’s what, some say, will save us from the inevitable extinction from superior species....that there might be a pause at noticing a beautiful building we’ve built, or song we’re singing, and it might reconsider obliterating us.
“Adam’s Curse” by William Butler Yeats is one of those perfect poems. It’s probably impossible to have a truly perfect poem, but this comes close.
By William Butler Yeats
We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
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.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
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;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’
We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
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.
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
Why do you like this poem?
One thing I love about this poem is how Yeats nails it to the middle class. We’re all supposed to worship this 9-5 laborer and see him as the hard working martyr. This is so relevant in our country right now. It’s ridiculous to see politicians pandering to the “ordinary working American” like that’s all we can ever hope to be. That’s what we consider “the world.” Mediocrity. Secure, uniform jobs working for big businesses. While the abstract thinking that might change our lives, how we spend our time, what really matters, is scorned.
People are terrified to even go there a little bit. This demonization of so-called intellectuals is terrifying. People are afraid to change, but what they don’t realize is that our lives can be so much better than they are now. We can have so much more fulfilling lives. And really, they already love and appreciate art much more than they think, as Yeats addresses later in the poem
“ ‘...That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’ ”
This poem touches on many important themes. It articulates beautifully the industry of the poet, but also the burdens of women to be beautiful, yet seem effortless. It is also one of those Yeats poems this is pitch-perfect. The sound and rhythm of this poem is delicious on the tongue; the colors are warm and vivid in the mind. I think of this poem all the time.