“A Dream of Death” by William Butler Yeats

I DREAMED that one had died in a strange place
Near no accustomed hand,
And they had nailed the boards above her face,
The peasants of that land,
Wondering to lay her in that solitude,
And raised above her mound
A cross they had made out of two bits of wood,
And planted cypress round;
And left her to the indifferent stars above
Until I carved these words:
She was more beautiful than thy first love,
But now lies under boards.

Poem selected and commented on by Madison Hutchins

After reading the first line of the poem, the reader is aware that the narrator is about to recount a dream. By using the word “strange” to specify how the death took place in a “strange place,” Yeats stresses the importance of home from the beginning. If he were comfortable with the idea of a foreign land, the word strange would not be utilized. Yeats initially shields the importance of the person who has died, but as the poem progress, the reader becomes aware that the narrator is dreaming about someone who he loves dearly.

Yeats’s lyrical dreamscape expresses one of his consciousness’s deepest anxieties. While there is no definitive meter, there is certainly a clear rhythm.

Using a dark and unsettling tone in the third and fourth lines, Yeats paints a picture of how the “peasants” of the foreign land “nailed the boards above her face.” Yeats emphasizes how she has died a lonely death away from home as the people of this land who do not know anything about her are the ones that bury her.

“A cross they had made out of two bits of wood” presents the idea that her grave is neither made nor tended by a loved one. She was found by strangers who knew nothing about her and exerted minimal effort in burying her. His references to the cross and to a planted cypress tree add a religious and spiritual component. Often placed in cemeteries because they look sad, the cypress tree further emphasizes the solemn tone of the poem.

The last two lines emphasize how beauty fades. This is illuminated by the shift from “she was” to “but now.” Buried in the dirt, her beauty is now unseen by the world. The narrator’s use of the word “lies” has a double meaning when he says that his love “lies under boards.” Not only does she physically lie in a coffin, but her beauty is now a lie as she will slowly decay and will no longer be beautiful.

At the end, the narrator turns the attention to the reader by using the word “thy.” The reader becomes even more emotionally attached to the poem by reflecting on his own first love. By traveling to her grave and carving an inscription, the narrator makes sure the world knows she is loved for eternity.

Yeats wrote this poem about the woman he loved, Maud Gonne. At the time this poem was written, she was traveling to France. Yeats was afraid she would die on her trip as she was predisposed to illness. The historic context shows how the poem was personal to Yeats; however, the themes are important with or without historic context.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)was an Irish poet who is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the 20thcentury. The love he had for Maud Gonne was unrequited, yet she serves as the muse for many of his poems. His obituary notes that “It has been said his laughter was ‘the most melancholy thing in the world.’” “A Dream of Death” can be found in the greater body of his work, The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, firstpublished in 1903.


“Sonnet VII” by John Milton

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew’th.
Perhaps my semblance might deceived the truth,
That I to manhood am arrived so near,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
That some more timely-happy spirits endu’th.
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure ev’n
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav’n;
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great Task-Master’s eye.

Poem selected and commented on by Melinda Kauffman

Milton is most commonly associated with his great epic poem, “Paradise Lost”. However, Milton had quite the tireless career. Even before Milton set to work on his great epic, he studied at the competitive Cambridge, where he often felt inadequate in comparison to his peers. His Sonnet VII is an example of how he felt in his younger years, desiring to be known as a great writer, but struggling to break into the literary world.

He begins his sonnet with Time personified as the thief, which robs him of his youth (1) and his “hasting days fly on with full career” (3). He is concerned about his accomplishments and feels like he has nothing to show because his “late spring no bud or blossom shew’th” (4). However, the poem turns at line 9 and he acknowledges that it’s in his best interest to accept God’s will and to learn to give Him, the “great Task-Master” (14) the control.

This same desire to be known for one’s accomplishments is evident in my own life and I am sure the lives of many young adults. I chose this poem by Milton, because I too feel inadequate in my accomplishments at the age of twenty. I am unsure of what I would like to do for the rest of my life let alone after college. However, when I look at the life of Milton and see how long it took for him to become an established writer, I remind myself that I do indeed have time. It often feels like Time is racing against us and literally robbing us of our youth like Milton said, but the truth is Time is providential and will guide us to do the work that we should.

John Milton is considered on of the most influential English writers in history. Mostly known for his epic Paradise Lost (Penguin Books, 2000), Milton has also written a plethora of poetry and other prose. (Oxford University Press, 1991). His sonnets made their way into the literary realm early on in his career, as well as his prose mostly written during his time as Secretary for Foreign Treasures. Although a controversial writer at times, Milton paved the way for many poets that came after him and is mostly renowned for his blank verse epic poem, Paradise Lost.