I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.

Literary Devices In Yeats’ “The Cap And Bells”

Unrequited Love makes man serve as a jester for his indifferent Queen. W. B. Yeats wants to make the point that unrequited passion makes a person give and take until they are left with nothing. This is what makes them a fool. This is achieved by cleverly using poetic devices. He uses three major vehicles to accomplish his mission: rhymes, personifications, and symbols. Yeats’ art is based on these devices. They make his readers think and help them better understand the tragic view he holds of love.

This poem is rhyming, even without a deep analysis. The rhyme scheme of abcb is used throughout the nine stanzas. This helps to keep the poem grounded and real, and prevents it from becoming too romanticized. The reader is shocked by the abrupt interruption of the rhyme scheme. This discordant element keeps the readers from getting sucked into a fairytale song. It explains the contradiction between the fantastic tale being presented literally and its metaphorical nature. The fourth stanza is a good example.

He wanted to be with her.

The owls have stopped calling out.

In a quivering red garment

The door opened and she heard a voice. (Yeats 13-16)

This line could be read as an amorous gesture, and the rhythmic melody would intensify its romantic appeal. This is prevented by the non-rhyming word, garment. The third line is not as if we were expecting it to be. In line 4, the rhymes resume. This stops the flow and makes us re-read what we read.

Yeats uses masculine rhymes as well. The accented consonant is usually found at the end syllable. The words door and more are each only one syllable, and they have a masculine rhyme. Yeats has only used two examples of rhymed multi-syllabic word in the poem. The words are window-sills and footfalls, which appear on lines 4-8. Assuming that poetry is a perfect art, the placement of the words becomes crucial. In stanzas 1 and 2, each word is the last one of its corresponding stanza. These two stanzas present the poem’s exposition and appear before the queen rejects a jester. These two stanzas are distinct from the rest.

Yeats’s stanzas are all written in the same pattern, with enjambed and end-stopped sentences. End-stopped is the punctuation at the end of a line, while enjambed is punctuation that ends without it. The pattern that was found was: end stopped, end stopped, enjambed and end-stopped. As an example:

The garden was full of laughter as the jester strolled through it.

The garden had fallen still;

He wished his soul to rise up

Stand on the window-sill. (1-4)

In stanzas 7, 8 and 9, he only alternates the pattern. These are the only two places in the poem where he alternates this pattern. Using this method, he alerts readers to the fact that there is a change within the poem. This poem’s climax is found in the two stanzas (lines 25-33). He jars his reader here, just as he did in the exposition.

This lyric poem also contains personification by Yeats. Personification is the process of giving human characteristics to non-living objects. Yeats uses personification in the very first line of his poem: “He commanded his to rise up/ And stand at her window-sill (3-4). He does so until his soul rejects him. His heart is next, and it “sang her through the window” (16). The heart and the soul are created as if they were human. He allows them to experience anguish and joy. The soul is given a distinct personality: “It was a wise-tongued soul that had been thinking for a long time” (7). The heart, on the other hand, is romantic: “It’s grown sweet-tongued from dreaming”. Yeats’ use of personification elevates the poem. The reader is made aware that there are more than just a literal spirit and heart at work, since neither can speak literally. Yeats expresses the realness of this rejection by the jester. The queen is dismissing the heart and the soul.

The reader must continue to read after Yeats sets a framework and tone. He also emphasizes what he believes is important. The reader is now confronted with Yeats’s strongest weapon: symbolism. Yeats’s poem is a two-leveled work. He uses symbols to make certain characters and objects come alive. In the literal form of the tale, a fool is seen in a garden by a window. He tells it to go up to her window, but she won’t listen and closes the door. Next, he sends the heart to her front door. But when she opens it, he is dismissed with a snuff fan. The jester then leaves her his bells and cap. She opens her window and door to let in the soul and heart. It is easy to understand. But it doesn’t convey Yeats message on unrequited and how powerful that love can be. These are only symbols. They represent objects that have deeper meanings. Start with the obvious, the queen and jester. They are easy to understand because they can be interpreted by knowing what each character is. Queens are rulers. She is the ruler of her country, and all others are her subjects, obligated to serve. A jester or fool is someone hired by the court to provide entertainment and should not be taken seriously. The woman who is ruling this man, not knowing what else to say, can be interpreted as a person who does nothing but entertain him. It is also possible to deduce this relationship by his position beneath her in the Garden: “The joker walked through the garden/He told his soul to go upward” (1.3). She is “above”. It is possible to view the garden in a symbolic way, possibly with a little license. Gardening, particularly elaborate works of art around castles, can be done for pure enjoyment. The queen is amused by the fact that the garden has a jester.

The next symbolism is that of the window or door. The jester then sends his heart to sing “to her through the door” (16). Then, when that fails, the jester sends his soul to “sing” through her door (16). The window symbolizes her soul. Yeats leaves clues to the meaning of both the heart and soul. He puts the soul into a “straight-blue garment” (5). This could be read two ways. The first interpretation of blue is that it’s true. “True blue” or cool. The word straight is used to support the first, indicating that he is being honest and straightforward in his message. The heart is described in the second paragraph as “red, quivering.” (15). The “personalities”, which are personified, also serve to contrast the “soul” and “heart” through their respective “tongues”. The transformation is the result of rejection and time. When the poem began, the “owls started to call” (6), but when the heart made its attempt, the “owls no longer called” (14). The symbolism of this is twofold. First, the symbolism is that of passing time. The owl is a creature of night. They are there at the start, which indicates nighttime. Later, they disappear, which indicates the progression towards day. This can be read as a combination of the passing of time and the “dawning” of reality on him. It can be interpreted as the passing of time or the reality of his situation “dawning” on him.

Only the name of the man is revealed. His cap and bells are his identity. His identity is all he can offer his queen when she won’t let him into her heart or soul. She must also take it her way:

“I’ve got a cap with bells,” he thought.

“I will kill myself and send her to her.”

They stayed where they were when she left. (21-24)

Yeats’s symbolism reaches its zenith here. He finally sees how he’s treated by his queen who must continue to be in charge. He can’t stop playing the fool. Even if it kills, he has to keep trying. The story is about a young woman who only accepts the jester’s affection after receiving the cap and the bells …”(Kierd 340).

Yeats cleverly uses poetic devices to convey his message. By using rhymes, personifications, and other poetic devices, Yeats leaves clues to his reader about what is most important. Here, he begins to weave a tapestry that is rich in symbolism and forces the reader into a deeper reflection of his intent. He achieves his aim and conveys his tragic view about unrequited romance: it’s unfair and makes man lose his identity. “He desires the woman, and she demands the man’s desire. An irreconcilable clash.” (Kiberd 342 ) Yeats makes his reader consider this message by presenting it in a shrewd way.

Works Referenced

Kiberd, Delcan. Yeats, Drama, and Prose. Ed. James Pethica was mentioned. Norton published the work in 2000 in New York. 340-346.

Yeats, W.B. Yeats, “The Cap and the Bells.” Poetry, Drama, and Prose. Ed. James Pethica is the original source. Norton, 2000, based in New York. 27-28.


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