The whole of ‘The Cold Heaven’ is a dramatic metaphor for Yeats’ emotion, having realised that Maud Gonne (the love of his life) will probably never accept him. The poem is a 1st person narrative, with one stanza of free verse. Enjambment makes the poem sound like a rush of thoughts, as does the irregularity of the line lengths, yet this also gives Yeats space to explain his emotions. The fact that the poem itself is short reflects the fact that Yeats now believes life is short, his life has ended now that Gonne has gone. It is made up of one sentence of Yeats looking up at the sky and pondering about unrequited love and then another reflecting on the idea of the afterlife. The poem is in a Romantic style, heavily influenced and inspired by the works of other poets, such as William Blake.
The title itself is a paradox, heaven should be seem warm and gentle, whereas the use of the word “cold” makes it sound harsh. “Cold” is also the equal and opposite to the ‘hot’ of hell. This title immediately shows that Yeats opinion of heaven has changed now he’s lost Gonne, he imagined he would spend eternity with her there, but now it just seems lonely.
The poem brings you straight into the Yeats’ thoughts with the use of the word “Suddenly” and immediately expresses how Yeats’ opinion of heaven has changed as he has lost Gonne, “rook delighting heaven”. The rook is a death omen, which makes it sound like heaven is delighted by death. Yeats also refers to his relationship with Gonne by using an oxymoron:
This seems doubly torturous, two extremes linking together. This could be interpreted as symbolising the idea that some relationships do not work, such as his relationship with Gonne.
Yeats refers back to the times he had with Gonne, of the “memories” they’d shared. He reflects back on the “hot blood of youth” – showing how he was much more energetic and passionate when he believed Gonne may have loved him back. Now he has realised that this is not the case, he has lost any energy or passion he previously possessed. Yeats also references “love crossed long ago” which could refer to the fact that his love of Gonne just passed her, she didn’t notice it, yet it could be alluding to the ‘star crossed lovers’: Romeo and Juliet in the works of Shakespeare.
This poem could almost be seen as a symbolisation for sexual purgatory, as Yeats is not able to now engage in sexual activites with Gonne, and so he uses a variety of sexual terms, “hot blood”, “cried and trembled”, “rocked to and fro”.
Yeats questions his faith in the last few lines, suggesting that people only seem to accept things “as the books say” – a reference to the Bible and the strict faith of the Catholics at the time. He then questions God himself, talking about the “injustice of the skies” – almost saying; ‘Who is God to judge us?’. The poem ends with a rhetorical question, which shows that there is no answer to life – only questions.
Thanks for reading,