William Butler Yeats’s “The Cap and Bells” depicts the behavior of love through an account of actions between a jester and a queen. Through the use of many symbolic references, the characters accurately reflect a lover’s actions towards his loved one. For example when Referring to jester-like men throughout many of his works (“A Coat”, “The Fool by the Roadside”, “Two Songs of a Fool”, etc. ), Yeats is continually portraying the actions of humans towards love as foolish.
Furthermore, "Cap and Bells came to Yeats in a dream most likely steaming from his obsessive infatuation he had for Maud Gonne. Being an acclaimed actress, Yeats most likely perceived Gonne as exceeding him in status; her queen and him the jester. Like many of Yeats poems, “The Cap and Bells” develops a lyrical tone full of emotion and images. Through this song-like piece, the reader strongly feels both the growing despondency of the jester and the eventual affection in the queen. Through his strong use of symbolism and imagery, Yeats suggests that love makes a fool of every man.
From forfeiting the soul, the heart, and finally physical life, Yeats emphasizes mans’ willingness to sacrifice all the elements of his existence to feel the complete and irresistible passions of love. Throughout “The Cap and Bells” Yeats constantly uses symbolism to express various elements of love. With the whole poem existing as a subtle analogy. As Yeats opens with “The jester walked into the garden” he immediately establishes the idea of the garden of Eden as it is the first place of affection and romance between man and woman.
As the garden “falls still”, Yeats also depicts the balance between nature and love. Continuing, we read how the jester “bade his soul rise upward. ” Here, the man is offering his soul to rise to the queen who is above him both physically and in social status. It rises in a “straight blue garment” until it reaches her “window-sill. Yeats implies that the soul posse a covering of hope as it rises. The soul does not rise in a curve-like manner, but is instead straight, direct, and uninterrupted by any forces, which may influence its course.
The windowsill becomes symbolic of the queen’s spirit. As the jester’s soul rises to the ledge, it hopes the queen’s spirit will allow him to enter. As the second stanza continues, one reads “It had grown wise-tongued by thinking / Of a quiet and light football”. With each line smoothly transitioning to the next, the idea Yeats creates continuity without breaks. Such a technique creates a feeling of acceleration, compelling a reader to carry on his thoughts from line to line.
As in the example, the jester has learned to speak with wisdom due to his constant thinking upon this game of love as a football. A football has two points, one on each end, and travels in a direct path when thrown. Love is a similar game, for it travels in a direct path from the sender to the receiver in hopes of being caught and returned. The sentence structure and constant use of semicolons throughout the third, fourth, and fifth stanzas of “The Cap and Bells” are two elements, which take the reader past the surface to find meaning.
He explains that after ignoring the soul of the jester, the queen “rose in her pale night-gown”. Not only does the night-gown reinforce the idea of night, but the “pale” color suggests that the queen thought little of the offering the jester gave her, for the “pale” color states the absence of emotion. The addition of the “heavy casement” and pushing the “latches down” not only shows that she locked the soul out of her home, but is also indicates that she also closed of her soul to the jester. As one can see, the simple sentences of the poem contain complex thoughts.
Throughout this work, Yeats continuously tells you these complex thoughts are given through the use of semicolons. While a period tells you that an idea is over, a semicolon on the other hand tells you that there is more to come. For example, we read that he sends her his heart “when owls called out no more; / In a red and quivering... ” Yeats thus uses these semicolons in hopes that the extra information will encourage you to dig for a deeper understanding. Furthermore, In contrast with the soul, the heart sings to the queen through the door.
The door, representing the queen’s body, is the gate way to her love. Although the heart had become “sweet-tongued by dreaming”, the queen still “waved it off in on the air”. Therefore, despite the fact that the heart had grown passionate by dreaming of the possible blossoming love, the queen still drove away the heart from her. As a result, the use of the simple sentences and semicolons influence readers to look past the superficial appearance of the poem and analyze each line for the extensive conclusions. The imagery and wording hroughout the poem are also two very important devices Yeats uses in “The Cap and Bells. ” Yeats constantly uses language that conjures up the senses, usually sight but also sound. Yeats explains that the queen took the cap and bells and “laid them upon her bosom, / Under a cloud of her hair” Such wording brings his poetry to life by sparking images in our heads. Holding the cap and bells close to her bosom creates the image of her acceptance of his offering because the bosom is close to the heart and also because the bosom is seen to be caring place.
Furthermore, the image of the cap and bells being under her hair also tells me that the queen cannot let others see that she is falling in love with a jester. Continuing, we understand that her “red lips sang them a love song / Till stars grew out of the air. ” This combined sight and sound imagery shows that the love of the jester has begun to puncture into the queen’s heart. The “love-song” suggests that a soft and beautiful melody which appeals to a reader’s ear. At the same time, the “red lips” depict a new passion in the queen in contrast with the “pale”.
Finally, the stars of the night depict that fate has brought such different people together; and there is tolerance for all love at night, when the world is not awake to see what goes on. The 8th stanza builds upon these newly acquired feelings. The queen now opens “her door and her window” to allow the heart and soul to come in. In other words, she is allowing the jester’s soul and heart into her body (door) and spirit (window). The sight imagery continues to build as the queen holds the soul and heart of the jester in her hands.
A reader creates the mental image of the queen possessing all the parts of the jester’s existence. Yet again, the sound imagery is distinguished when the soul and heart “set up a noise like crickets, / A chattering wise and sweet” the chattering being pleasant, as the poem implies. Since male crickets are the only ones who make noise, it is evident that the jester’s soul and heart are creating these sounds that appeal to the senses. In conclusion, “The Cap and Bells” is a poem that explores the elements of love. Through feelings and corresponding actions using the characters the jester and the queen.
The poem ends with the jester sacrificing all of himself to a queen. Although we are not exactly told what happens to the queen and the jester in the end, we conclude that his soul, heart, and cap and bells (signifying his life) are no longer his. In many ways, Yeats indicates the foolishness in such a love, for the queen would not accept the greatest sacrifices: the soul (immortal and supreme existence of oneself) and the heart (provider of life). Instead she fell in love when given the physical cap and bells. Yeats all together implies that love has the ability to blind a man from ration.