To the Rose upon the Rood of Time

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"To the Rose upon the Rood of Time" is poem by W. B. Yeats that was published in The Rose in 1893. The poem is one of many early Yeatsian lyrical poems which utilize the symbol of the rose.

W. B. Yeats Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet and playwright, co-founder of Abbey Theatre

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature. A pillar of the Irish literary establishment, he helped to found the Abbey Theatre, and in his later years served two terms as a Senator of the Irish Free State. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival along with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn and others.

Rose (symbolism) symbol

Various folk cultures and traditions assign symbolic meaning to the rose, though these are seldom understood in-depth. Examples of deeper meanings lie within the language of flowers, and how a rose may have a different meaning in arrangements. Examples of common meanings of different coloured roses are: True love (red), mystery (blue), innocence or purity (white), death (black), friendship (yellow), and passion (orange).


Meter and Rhyme Scheme

The poem has twenty four lines, written in fairly regular iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is aabbccddeeff gghhiijjkkaa, and the use of the rhyming couplets give the poem its euphonic feel.Poetry Archive

Iambic pentameter is a type of metric line used in traditional English poetry and verse drama. The term describes the rhythm, or meter, established by the words in that line; rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables called "feet". "Iambic" refers to the type of foot used, here the iamb, which in English indicates an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. "Pentameter" indicates a line of five "feet".

A couplet is a pair of successive lines of metre in poetry. A couplet usually consists of two successive lines that rhyme and have the same metre. A couplet may be formal (closed) or run-on (open). In a formal couplet, each of the two lines is end-stopped, implying that there is a grammatical pause at the end of a line of verse. In a run-on couplet, the meaning of the first line continues to the second.


       Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!        Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:        Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;        The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet eyed,        Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;        And thine own sadness, whereof stars, grown old        In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,        Sing in their high and lonely melody.        Come near, that no more blinded by man's fate,        I find under the boughs of love and hate,        In all poor foolish things that live a day,        Eternal beauty wandering on her way.                 Come near, come near, come near—Ah, leave me still        A little space for the rose-breath to fill!        Lest I no more hear common things that crave;        The weak worm hiding down in its small cave,        The field-mouse running by me in the grass,        And heavy mortal hopes that toil and pass;        But seek alone to hear the strange things said        By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,        And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know        Come near; I would, before my time to go,        Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:        Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.

Commentary and Interpretation

The symbol of the rose in "To the Rose upon the Rood of Time" is firstly one that is constant, binding past and present through its spiritual and romantic referents. Stephen Coote notes that the rose on the rood was a symbol worn around the neck of those belonging to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn: the "female" rose is impaled upon the "male" cross. The union of these two elements was intended to help the wearer transcend beyond the physical and into the spiritual: "the rose could also be seen as intellectual, spiritual and eternal beauty impaled upon the world and suffering with mankind as transcendence becomes immanence."

Spirituality Philosophical / theological term

The meaning of spirituality has developed and expanded over time, and various connotations can be found alongside each other.

Romanticism period of artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that started in 18th century Europe

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism and nationalism.


A rood or rood cross, sometimes known as a triumphal cross, is a cross or crucifix, especially the large Crucifixion set above the entrance to the chancel of a medieval church. Alternatively, it is a large sculpture or painting of the crucifixion of Jesus.

As a symbol of constancy, the rose is also the symbol of Yeats's undying love for Maud Gonne, as well as the symbol for Ireland herself as a homeland, suffering and dying on the cross, beautiful, tragic, hoping for resurrection. Although Ireland suffers, she remains eternally beautiful, an unchanging factor that transcends time. Whatever the referent, or referents, the permanence of the rose is clear, as it is the "Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days" (line 1). In order for Yeats to tell of the great Celtic heroes, the rose must come near, presumably because the rose has witnessed and embodied the sufferings of the people long past (line 2).

Maud Gonne Irish revolutionary and activist

Maud Gonne MacBride was an English-born Irish revolutionary, suffragette and actress. Of Anglo-Irish descent, she was won over to Irish nationalism by the plight of evicted people in the Land Wars. She also actively agitated for Home Rule.

Ireland Island in north-west Europe, 20th largest in world, politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (a part of the UK)

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.

Resurrection concept of a living being coming back to life after death

Resurrection or anastasis is the concept of coming back to life after death. In a number of ancient religions, a dying-and-rising god is a deity which dies and resurrects.

Furthermore, the rose is invited to: "Come near, that no more blinded by man’s fate,/ I find under the boughs of love and hate,/ In all poor foolish things that live a day,/ Eternal beauty wandering on her way" (lines 9-12). "Eternal beauty" is the rose, personified at the end of the stanza, or at the very least made female; however, the word "eternal" is the word to note. The rose always was, and is, and will be forever on the "Rood of Time.

In poetry, a stanza is a grouped set of lines within a poem, usually set off from other stanzas by a blank line or indentation. Stanzas can have regular rhyme and metrical schemes, though stanzas are not strictly required to have either. Even though the term "stanza" is taken from Italian, in the Italian language the word "strofa" is more commonly used. There are many unique forms of stanzas. Some stanzaic forms are simple, such as four-line quatrains. Other forms are more complex, such as the Spenserian stanza. Fixed verse poems, such as sestinas, can be defined by the number and form of their stanzas. The term stanza is similar to strophe, though strophe sometimes refers to irregular set of lines, as opposed to regular, rhymed stanzas.

The poem is settled in the rose, to the point that the poem’s tone is one of sweet, suffering melancholy, a tone that is reaching for the sublime. In the 1890s, says Stephen Coote, Yeats was concerned for the "spiritual regeneration of his people": he felt that a spiritual posture of awe, a posture taken before those things that were excellent, beautiful, and full of grandeur, was necessary to achieve that regeneration. The Oxford Dictionary notes that the etymology of "sublime" renders a Latin root, sublimus, meaning "below the threshold". The sublime, then, is that which is so beautiful it borders on the spiritual or the divine: Yeats poses the rose as a starting point for spiritual regeneration, and surrounds this symbol with the beautiful lyricism, euphony, rhyme and meter which characterizes his early poetry.

Depression (mood) state of low mood and aversion to activity

Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity. It can affect a person's thoughts, behavior, motivation, feelings, and sense of well-being. It may feature sadness, difficulty in thinking and concentration and a significant increase/decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, and people experiencing depression may have feelings of dejection, hopelessness and, sometimes, suicidal thoughts. It can either be short term or long term. The core symptom of depression is said to be anhedonia, which refers to loss of interest or a loss of feeling of pleasure in certain activities that usually bring joy to people. Depressed mood is a symptom of some mood disorders such as major depressive disorder or dysthymia; it is a normal temporary reaction to life events, such as the loss of a loved one; and it is also a symptom of some physical diseases and a side effect of some drugs and medical treatments.

In literature, the tone of a literary work expresses the writer's attitude toward or feelings about the subject matter and audience.

Etymology Study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time

Etymology is the study of the history of words. By extension, the phrase "the etymology of [some word]" means the origin of the particular word. For place names, there is a specific term, toponymy.

The repeated phrase "come near" has the feel of an incantation: the rose's proximity, so close, and yet leaving a space large enough for "the rose-breath to fill", contributes to the feeling of being on the verge of the divine (line 14). The lack of complete and utter communion with the rose gives the poem an air of sweet suffering that seems necessary in order to achieve the sublime.

The suffering in the "sad Rose", however, also lends an anxiety to the poem's melancholy, an anxiety that is supported by the allusions to the Irish heroes, buried interminably in Irish ground and in Irish memory. The Druid, a priest, magician and soothsayer of the ancient Celtic religion, long an extinct specimen of Ireland, is here described with romantic and wonderful qualities: "wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed" (line 4). Yeats mourns the lack of the good in occult religion of the past; furthermore, the mention of Cuchulain and Fergus recalls their tragic ends.

Cuchulain was a mythological hero with an Achilles-like story, an unbeatable warrior defeated because of a small weakness. He was betrayed by his enemies and died at the young age of twenty-seven, or as Yeats puts it, as he was "battling with the bitter tide" (line 3). Fergus, on the other hand, is a common name in Irish mythology, but many of these figures died violent deaths or sung out ages in Ireland. According to Yeats, the Druid "cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold" (line 5). Their dismal deaths are indeed cataclysmic, and although the events are muted through allusion only, the sadness of such lost greatness is inherent to the poem.

Yeats sings of "old Eire and the ancient ways", an old Ireland that seems lost forever in the passage of time (line 23). It is safe to say that there is conflicted feeling in this poem, but that the feeling does not overpower the sweetness in the melancholy. The rose upon the rood, after all, has witnessed these events and its constancy, despite its suffering, acts as a central answer to the poem's murmurs of anxiety.

Alternatively, the Fergus to whom Yeats refers may be the character portrayed in the 13th century chivalric romance story, Roman de Fergus. In this sense, especially alongside references to Cuchulain and Druids, the piece could be considered a song of praise for the old world, a nostalgia for the honesty, authenticity and complexity of the past—to the "Rose" lost upon the "Rood of Time". In this way the first verse paragraph is Yeats' appeal for these things to "Come near, come near, come near", but the plea is soon followed by hesitation: "Ah, leave me still/A little space for the rose-breath to fill!/Lest I no more hear common things that crave"; the poet acknowledges the fleeting beauty of the immediate, natural world. The poem continues however, returning to echo the original sentiment, his yearning for lost culture- "But seek alone to hear the strange things said/By God to the bright hearts of those long dead/And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know/Come near".


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