An Analytical Review of “Cap and Bells” and “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” by William Butler Yeats

Yeats uses a basic rhyme scheme and flowing words to discuss the themes of love in “The Cap and Bells,” while he uses a much more crude language, and a more loose rhyme scheme in “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop.” Yeats uses these two poems in the different parts of his life, to describe the relationship he wanted with Maude Gonne, and how in the end he gave up on her, but not on the idea of love. These two poems contrast greatly with the different parts of Yeats’s life. The earlier poem “The Cap and Bells” is all about romantic and passionate love, while the later poem “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” has a physical love aspect thrown into it. As Yeats ages, his poems are more about physical love than about young and passionate love; these two poems contrast the different parts of Yeats’s life and how his poetry changed as he did.

Throughout his years, William Butler Yeats wrote a vast amount of poems, each having their own meanings and each up for interpretation by individuals. The focus of this paper will be on his two poems, “The Cap and Bells,” and “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop,” each written in a different part of Yeats’s life. “The Cap and Bells,” was written in 1893 around the middle of his life, which contrasts greatly with the poem “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” written in 1931. As Yeats got older, it seemed that his poems started dealing more with age than with love like a few of his earlier poems.

The jester in “The Cap and Bells,” is desperate for love. He is giving his heart and soul to the queen, but she does not want anything to do with it. The jester realizes that he must take off his mask (the cap and bells) and give all of himself to her so that in the end, he will accept who he is and so will the queen. When he sent his heart to her, it was clothed in a red garment. This is very symbolic, hearts are usually seen as being red, and when you think of love the color red always follows closely behind. In this case, the red garment could be all of his love and passionate feelings and emotions covering the heart and going with it. This poem is written with a slight rhyme scheme with every second and fourth line in each stanza rhyming.

Crazy Jane is loosely based off of a neighbor of Lady Gregory. Yeats uses her eccentric personality to drive in the point that love and lust are one, and you cannot have one without the other. This poem may represent a renewal in Yeats; he was in his sixties and was still very passionate when it came to love and lust. This poem had a more physical look on love than the other poem did. This poem, to me, did not seem very poetic. There was a lot of alliteration throughout this poem, like “fair, flat, fallen, foul.” Yeats used Crazy Jane as the spokesperson in a way that makes her seem sane. She does not seem crazy in this poem; she more seems like she is just a woman trying to live a pleasurable and happy life while this Bishop looks down on her. She says that “Fair and foul are near of kin, And fair needs foul.” When she says this, I think that she means beauty and ugliness are closely related, and that you cannot have one without the other; maybe even that you cannot have the good without the bad. Women in love make decisions, and I think she is saying that their decisions lead them to the “mansion in The place of excrement.” In the very end of the poem, she talks about being sole or whole. I think by this she means that you can’t have the good without the bad. Or that perhaps the good comes with something that was once bad.

Both of these poems are very different. An aspect of love and lust comes from “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop,” while love and giving someone your “everything” is the focus of the poem “Cap and Bells.” The bishop tries to get Crazy Jane to live a better and more holy life, but she is perfectly content living the passionate life she has. Crazy Jane is all about physical pleasure along with love, while the jester just wants the queen to love him. There is not a mention of anything other than emotional and passionate love in that poem. I think these two poems are so different because of the times they were written in. Yeats wrote a very lighthearted poem with “The Cap and Bells.” It seemed very romantic and sweet that he took off his mask and she accepted him for whom he was. Then in “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” Crazy Jane is much more into discussing the more physical aspects of love rather than being passionate and in love. She still discusses love, but she discusses the love coming with the bad as well. There seems to be a small mention of a soul, “sole,” in this poem as well. I think it is mentioned because of the good and the bad. This soul is sort of the whole being of the person, and I think she mentions the soul and the “whole” as being hole, and the body and soul coming together as the good and the bad.

These poems each have many symbolic meanings. It is likely that the queen is actually Maude Gonne, and she could be seen as a queen because of her social status. She was a prominent figure in politics, which could be his reasoning on making her a queen, seemingly unattainable from a jester’s point of view. Going along the lines of this point, he could also be picturing himself as the jester, a fool. This poem could be written to express how he wishes it had ended with Maude Gonne instead of how it actually had. This could be an example of Yeats being young, and him having thoughts of young love. The jester was willing to sacrifice his heart his soul and everything he had for the passions of love. This poem was written before Maude Gonne had married Major John MacBride, and I think that is possibly where this lighthearted queen and jester poem came from.

I feel like there are many ways that you could go with these two poems. They are both so different in their tones and voice, but the undertones and the meanings are so similar. Yeats aged, as did his poetry, but love and lust remained. He created “The Cap and Bells” in his younger years while he was still pining away for Maude Gonne, but as the years came and went, he changed the mood of his poems on love. “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” is not as lighthearted as “The Cap and Bells” is and it seems that there is an undertone of hopelessness in it. There’s a more sexual undertone to it, and talks more about the good and the bad. Yeats was still young with the earlier poem, and he created such a beautiful lighthearted poem on love and giving someone everything you had to give, which includes the bad as in taking off the mask you hide behind. These poems contrasted greatly with each other. Yeats aged, and the aspect of young and passionate love changed as he did. Nonetheless, he wrote two beautiful poems, one on the love and lust that comes with age, and one on young romantic love in which you would give everything for.


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