Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

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Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

by William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

The original title of the poem, is as listed above, but it subsequently became known as “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.”

Aedh is a frequent character in the poetry of Yeats. From wiki:

The speaker of the poem is the character Aedh, who appears in Yeats’s work alongside two other archetypal characters of the poet’s myth: Michael Robartes and Red Hanrahan. The three are collectively known as the principles of the mind. Whereas Robartes is intellectually powerful and Hanrahan represents Romantic primitivism, Aedh is pale, lovelorn, and in the thrall of La belle dame sans merci. (The character “Aedh” is replaced in volumes of Yeats’s collected poetry by a more generic “he”.)

The use of Aedh as the speaker, in this poem, indicates that it may have been written in an intentionally over-the-top or ironic manner.

Thematically, the poem is familiar. The Speaker addresses his love and says that if he could, he would give her treasures. However, as he is a poor man, he will instead give her his dreams.

One of the techniques of the poem is its repetition of words. The rhyme scheme is not exactly a rhyme scheme, in that we have words repeated rather thanrhymed. Lines 1 and 3 end with “cloths.” Lines 2 and 4 end with “light,” Lines 5 and 7 end with “feet” and lines 6 and 8 end with “dreams.”

Within the lines, though, Yeats does rhyme light with night, and spread with tread. By placing the rhymes in unexpected places, the Speaker creates in the piece a subtle sense that things are not how wants them to be. To that end, the use of repetition of words, rather than finding new ones, also creates a sense of short-coming on behalf of the Speaker.

This is a beloved poem. Whether the piece was originally intended as ironic, or not, audiences have largely embraced it as a sincere expression of love.

I have embedded below a reading of the poem by American actor Harvey Keitel.