A Coat by William Butler Yeats

A Coat’ by William Butler Yeats is a short ten line poem that is contained within one set of lines. These lines do follow a specific rhyme scheme. It conforms to the pattern of ABBACDCCDE. A reader should also take more the similarities between some other end words. 

Yeats makes use of consonance, or the repetition of consonant sounds, with the end words “embroideries,” “mythologies,” “eyes,” and “enterprise.” There is a clear repetition of the “s” sound within these words. There are other examples, within the text, such as in line seven with the letter “t.” 

In regards to meter, there is not one particular pattern of meter that lasts throughout the lines, but the lines are all of a similar length. They range somewhere between four and seven syllables. 

 

Extended Metaphor 

Yeats makes use of one long extended metaphor in ‘A Coat.’ It equates his own writing practice, meaning his process and the poems and essays he produced, to a coat. It wasn’t a simple coat, but one that is covered in embroidery. It is interesting when reading the text to consider why Yeats chose a coat to represent his work. The coat is something that one can wear, and with all the embroidery, it represents his identity. 

But, what is different and perhaps most noteworthy about the coat is that he can put it on, and then take it off whenever he chooses. This speaks to Yeats’ ability as a poet to move form to form and accept change.

 

Summary of A Coat

A Coat’ by William Butler Yeats describes the poet’s own writing practice through the metaphor of an embroidered coat. 

The poem begins with the speaker stating that everything he has worked on as a poet has come together as a coat. This is a piece of clothing that he spent a great deal of time on. It was covered with “old mythologies,” or stories of past times, proved untrue, but still worthy of consideration. They stretch from the top to the bottom. 

In the next section of the text Yeats describes how his works have been misappropriated. The fools Yeats refers to in the text are likely  other poets and other contemporaries, such as politicians. They took his wore, put in their own name, and pretended that they “wrought it.” 

In conclusion, Yeats declares that it doesn’t matter to him in the end. His anger has disappeared and he’s chosen to take off his coat and embrace “walking naked.” 

 

Analysis of A Coat

Lines 1-4

I made my song a coat

Covered with embroideries

Out of old mythologies

From heel to throat;

In the first lines of this piece the speaker begins by comparing his own writing process, and the works he produces as “a coat.” His “song,” a reference to his poetry, is well looked after and adorned. For example, he states that his coat is covered with “embroideries.” Traditionally, embroidery is done with a few strands of string and a needle. This is an intensive process, and one that would take a long time. This shows the dedication that Yeats put into his writing practice. 

In the next line he states that the embroideries on his coat are patterns, words, or images, inspired by “old mythologies.” Aside from Mythologies being the name of one of Yeats’ volumes, he showed an interest in mythology, especially the stories of Ireland throughout his written works. The word is also interesting to consider in relation to stories that used to be beliefs, and are now simple tales told over and over by others. 

Lastly, in this section Yeats adds that the embroidered mythologies he worked so long and hard for ran “From heel to throat”. They covered every surface of the coat. This speaks again to the dedication with which Yeats approached his work and its all-encompassing nature. 

 

Lines 5-7 

But the fools caught it,

Wore it in the world’s eyes

As though they’d wrought it.

In the next three lines the poem takes a turn. The speaker states that others, “fools” got their hands on Yeats’ coat. They meaning other writers and contemporaries alive at the same time as Yeats was, though appropriation and straight copying, took advantage of the new terrain he broached as a writer. Other, untruthful people “wore” Yeats’ coat “in the world’s eyes.” To an onlooker, the coat might appear to be their own, but Yeats knows the truth. 

These “fools” pretended that the coat was their own, as if they “Wrought” or created it. This is clearly something which would’ve frustrated the poet. Especially, as is made clear in the first few lines, the amount of time and care he put into it. 

 

Lines 8-10 

Song, let them take it

For there’s more enterprise

In walking naked.

In the final three lines the speaker passes his “Song” off. He lets go of any anger he might’ve had, and declares that there is more “enterprise / In walking naked” than trying to wear an original coat. This is his way of taking the high ground, ignoring the “fools” and continuing on his own path. It is likely, considering the prestige of Yeats’ work, the lesser poets will surely copy every move he makes and politicians and movers will take advantage of his poetry to promote their own beliefs. 

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