Analysis of a Drinking Song

I chose A Drinking Song, by William Butler Yeats to analyze for a variety of reasons. I particularly like the simplicity of not only the language, but the message. It is not a particularly abstract or deep thought poem, but is a poem with a clear message none the less. The basic plot of the poem, as I saw it, is there is a man drinking a glass of wine, reflecting on his choices in life.

A Drinking Song
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

On the first read, there are no words that are particularly unfamiliar; however, every word seems to have been deliberately chosen based on the context and point of the message. Key words that I thought were crucial to the overall message of the poem were wine, mouth, love, eye, know, truth, look, and sigh. I chose to specially acknowledge these words because if they were to be changed, the entire message of the poem would then be too.
In the first two lines, there are two fairly straight forward statements. The first is regarding the consumption of wine through the mouth (nothing super novel about this idea), and the second in how love comes through the eye. When I saw the word eye I first think of images and how a perceive my surroundings. Then I went back to the word love and had a bit of an “ah-ha” moment. Through this line, Yeats has specifically defined what the eye is seeing in this particular situation.
Following these two statement-type lines, Yeats continues on in the following two lines to describe that these are the only two things we shall know as a sort of “end-all, be-all” facts before we die. The key words that give me this sense are all and truth. When used in context, these two words denote that the person in the poem will know nothing else regarding life that is concrete definitive before passing away.
The final two lines is where the culmination of the previous four lines is. In a very systematic way, Yeats has defined two fairly simple statements, and has told the reader that these two statements are all we know as facts of life. Then, in the most abstract part of the poem he describes how he lifts the glass to his mouth and sighs. Since by already defining that wine comes in at the mouth, and love comes in at the eye, in the last line we now know as readers that Yeats is comparing love to wine.
But what really gives the concept and text of the poem a mood is the very last word, sigh. although the word love usually denotes happiness or joy, Yeats says he sighs when he sees the glass of wine appear in front of his face.
Another interesting connotative element to the poem is how Yeats states that wine coming in through the mouth and love coming in through the eye is all we’re ever going to know before we die. I thought die gave a very sharp contrast to the word love here; almost a life/death, happy/sad dualism.
As far as the mechanics of the poem, Yeats played with the elements of sound and line length and punctuation in particular to support the concept and message of the poem. There is a very obvious rhyme scheme of A B A B. This works to support the poem’s namesake, A drinking Song. This scheme very well gives the poem a song type rhythm.
Line length is another fairly simple element to this poem, which I think adds to the idea of simplicity. Each line in the poem is exactly seven syllables long with the exception of the first line, which is six. This also works with the rhyme scheme to give it a song feeling.
The last element that really stuck out to me was the punctuation of the poem. While reading the poem, I noticed that some lines have periods, some have commas or semicolons, and some end with or contain no punctuation mark at all. From this punctuation, I gathered that as a reader I was to read the poem with strict punctuation. When I did, certain lines ran together and worked as one fluid thought, while other lines were separated into emphasized phrases. The most obvious example of this is in the last line where a comma is used to separate, “I look at you, and I sigh.” When read aloud, this comma gives huge emphasis to the last three words as they work together to give an emotion of regret or a certain anguish.
Overall, I found this poem to be really thought provoking and cause me, as a reader, to do some introspection of my life choices. Although I can’t definitively say, I feel that this was the intended reaction for readers to have. Yeats wanted readers to see life through the eyes of a person who has only lived for his drink, and how bleak his life has become that his idea of love come from the bottom of a glass.

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One thought on “Analysis of a Drinking Song

  1. charissamoran says:

    I had the same experience since I also choose a poem by William Butler. His poems are very straightforward and easy to gloss over. I had to slow down and take it line my line and really look at the poem to see there was much more. He is a sneaky author with his poetry in the rhyming and choice of words. I had a lot of question marks in my poem compared to where you have lots of commas which shows what kind of writer he is.

    Like

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