Poet's Pick April 5

W. B. Yeats: "He Tells of a Valley Full of Lovers"
Selected by Tomás Q. Morín
National Poetry Month 2018


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Tomás Q. Morín's Poetry Month Pick, April 5, 2018

"He Tells of a Valley Full of Lovers"
by W. B. Yeats (1865–1939)

I dreamed that I stood in a valley, and amid sighs,
For happy lovers passed two by two where I stood;
And I dreamed my lost love came stealthily out of the wood
With her cloud-pale eyelids falling on dream-dimmed eyes:
I cried in my dream, O women, bid the young men lay
Their heads on your knees, and drown their eyes with your hair,
Or remembering hers they will find no other face fair
Till all the valleys of the world have been withered away.

 

* Tomás Q. Morín Comments:
“He Tells of a Valley Full of Lovers” first appeared in Yeats’s 1899 collection The Wind Among the Reeds. In its first appearance, however, the title was “Aedh Tells of a Valley full of Lovers.” Aedh was a love struck persona Yeats used in poems that explored desire.

When the poems with Aedh in the title were included in later editions, and in his Collected Poems, Yeats wisely shed the mask and replaced the name Aedh with He. Unlike Aedh, He allows any reader who has lost love to smoothly slip into the scene as the speaker by the third line.

The scene seems simple but it is full of subtlety: a speaker longing for the person he cannot have finds her in a valley, a valley of lovers, no less. At first we might think, of course in his dream she would be the only person who is single, but look again. In his dream she appears stealthily from a forest. Her eyelids are the color of clouds and she’s been dreaming. Yeats doesn’t need to tell us that the speaker might feel worried, jealous even. If Yeats were writing this poem today, instead of a forest the woman might emerge instead from a packed club.

As the poem turns with the speaker’s cry to the women of the valley, again sly Yeats lures us into expecting that the poem will end by praising his beloved. After all, he begs the women to use their hair to cover the eyes of their men so they can’t see his beloved. Why? Is it because she is so beautiful that they will abandon their women for her as the penultimate line wants us to think? Not quite. It is because after they abandon their women and fall in love with his beloved they will be filled with an unrequited love until every valley in the world has dried up and become empty.

This sudden turn jars because it contains a warning, a warning that hinges on love being seen as a force of destruction. Yeats transforms a poem on a simple subject like love lost into a dark warning for all to heed. The one thing that saves the poem from utter melancholy is that the scene is in a dream. And so, to the living, for whom there is still hope, the message is clear: if you can, don’t ever let your beloveds go.


About Tomás Q. Morín:
Tomás Q. Morín is the author of Patient Zero and A Larger Country, winner of the APR/Honickman Prize. He translated Pablo Neruda's The Heights of Macchu Picchu, as well as the libretto Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance. With Mari L'Esperance he co-edited Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine. He teaches at Texas State University and in the low-residency MFA program of Vermont College of Fine Arts.


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