The Concept of Struggling in “Adam’s Curse”

In the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve disobey God by indulging in the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden, thus beginning the plague of Adam’s Curse on mankind. This belief postulates that in order to experience even the most minimal pleasures in life, one must undergo a tremendous struggle. Throughout his poem “Adam’s Curse”, W.B. Yeats analyzes the burdened nature of the human race as a result of the biblical ordeal. The inclusion of irony, tone, and mood each allow the poet to contribute to the notion that human nature cannot escape the grips of the hedonic treadmill. Individuals undergo a copious amount of suffering in exchange for a minute perception of happiness, only to once again subject themselves to another cycle of sorrow.

Initially, Yeats introduces the concept of Adam’s curse in an ironical sense in order to suggest that the toiling seems to affect women more than men. The phrase “Adam’s curse” suggests the idea that men suffer as the sole victims of this agonizing anathema. Nevertheless, when conversing with the woman, the narrator discovers his erroneousness; for the woman states that, “…To be born woman is to know-/Although they do not talk of it at school-/That we must labour to be beautiful” (Yeats). The notion of never acknowledging the labors of women seems to fall into the common opinion of females during the time of the poem’s origin. Throughout history, a common portrayal of women was that of a “silent sufferer” and even though those struggles never seem recognized, it does not imply that they are nonexistent. Throughout the poem, the narrator continuously depicts his summer lover as a “beautiful mild woman” (Yeats). In order for her to continue to feel the satisfaction of receiving this compliment, the woman must put forth a great deal of effort to maintain that appearance every single day she encounters him. In the end, by applying the concept of Adam’s curse in an ironic connotation, Yeats contends that even though both genders endure suffering, ultimately, women tend to bear the larger burden.

Furthermore, throughout the poem “Adam’s Curse”, Yeats’ own tone shifts from blissful to fatigue; thus insinuating that even the author cannot escape from the hedonic treadmill of life. The first stanza includes the poet’s elucidation of the romantic summer he spends with a woman, “We sat together at one summer’s end/… and talked of poetry./ I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;/ Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,’” (Yeats). The tone of these few lines radiates the emotions of any quintessential summer romance: timelessness, awe, and adoration. Nonetheless, those blissful emotions of the poet begin to unravel as soon as the next stanza; by the end of the poem, Yeats now embodies a more lugubrious tenor. The lines “We saw the last embers of daylight die,” and “That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown/ As weary-hearted as that hollow moon” (Yeats), the poet narrator expresses feelings of exhaustion and hopelessness. It seems as if the romance between the two lovers was too good to last. Yeats eventually gives in to the struggle of trying to maintain the beatific mindset of the time they spent together; the strain of staying in love with that “beautiful mild woman” seems too overbearing to continue forever, all thanks to Adam’s curse. All in all, the antithetical nature of the Yeats’ tone throughout the poem highlights the predominance of Adam’s curse over mankind; it not only incorporates itself into the physical lives of humans, but also the emotional facets.

Moreover, Yeats generates a conflicting mood within the readers throughout the poem so that they too can experience the struggling sensation of Adam’s curse. In order to produce this opposing mindset, the poet juxtaposes a romantic, natural setting with a melancholy word connotation. By placing the setting of “Adam’s Curse” in nature, Yeats elicits feelings of serenity, happiness, and blissfulness through phrases such as “the last embers of daylight”, “the trembling blue-green of the sky”, and “hollow moon” (Yeats). These tranquil, pleasant images struggle against the more somber connotation of the poet’s word choice. Expressions such as “weary-hearted”, “washed by time’s waters”, and “worn as if it had been a shell” (Yeats) conjures feelings of depression, tiredness, and hopelessness.The explicit confliction between these two emotional extremes within the readers allows them to experience the hectic nature of the hedonic treadmill first hand. Yeats challenges readers by forcing them to search intensely for that sense of joy that once inhibited the beginning of the poem. Ultimately, they come to realize that the happiness no longer exists, due to Adam’s curse; it was just a brief moment of sunshine that soon gets covered by clouds. In the end, through a contrasting setting and connotation, Yeats educes the mood of struggling within readers thus demonstrating the conflict endured by human society as a result of a biblical jinx.

Overall, throughout the poem “Adam’s Curse”, Yeats comments on the toiling dilemma that plagues society as a result of God’s fury. In order to depict the perception that individuals seem trapped on the hedonic treadmill of life, the poet employs the literary devices of irony, tone, and mood. Yeats calls to attention the struggling quality of human life; thus, raising the question: will human nature always be doomed to struggle endlessly or can there ever be instances of true happiness sans maximum exertion?

Work Cited

Poetry Foundation. “Adam’s Curse by William Butler Yeats.” Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43285/adams-curse. Accessed 18 Sept. 2018.