W William Butler Yeats

Never Give All The Heart by William Butler Yeats

Never Give All The Heart by William Butler Yeats is a poem written in advice. The poem is urging men not to devote themselves completely to one woman, as he believes they will get bored and move on to other men, leaving the man heartbroken.

Never Give All The Heart by William Butler Yeats



Throughout Never Give All The Heart, Yeats’ message is clear: don’t give your whole heart to someone. Yeats’ own personal life is a little tragic, and is clearly the inspiration for this piece. He proposed to Maud Gonne four times, who rejected him all four of these times, and then proceeded to marry someone else. Ouch. I think it is fair to say that Never Give All The Heart may have sprung form that heartbreak. He warns against love, knowing that giving too much will allow someone to hurt you.



Never Give All The Heart by William Butler Yeats is written in a sonnet form. The sonnet form measures 14 lines, and most commonly is a poem written about love. There are a few different rhyme scheme associated with different kinds of sonnets, for example the Spenserian, Shakespearian and Petrarchan sonnet look and sound a little different to this poem, with Yeats using Clare sonnet form – one that is not as commonly used. The rhyme scheme in this sonnet form is AABBCCDDEEFFGG, with all lines rhyming in couplets. This creates a certain harmony to the lines, the poem reading through quickly as the lines are linked together. Also, considering this poem has a main theme of love, it is apt to use a style that connotes love.

The full poem can be read here


Never Give All The Heart Analysis

Lines 1-3

The opening of Never Give All The Heart states Yeats’ primary intention when writing the poem. He wants to warn people against devoting too much love to just one person, indeed: Never Give All The Heart.

The use of a caesura after this statement enacts a pause, emphasising the phrase and calling the reader to attention. The heart of this poem is within this first clause, and Yeats makes this evidently clear. Following the caesura comes the second topic of the poem, ‘for love’. Indeed, this poem is a tribute to love, or rather heartbreak, with Yeats writing this poem in reflection of his unfortunate marital circumstance.

Using enjambment, he then continues, stating that ‘love/ will hardy seem worth thinking of’, connecting the ideas but ensuring that ‘love’ has emphasis through the manipulating the syntax and placing it as the last word of the first sentence. Yeats uses the same technique, connecting this further to ‘passionate women’, claiming that these women will not care about ‘love’ if all the heart is given. The use of caesura and enjambment are balanced within these lines, with Yeats expertly crafting Never Give All The Heart with layers of meaning.


Lines 4-7

Yeats continues to explore his argument. He believes that women are not excited by someone who gives them all their heart. He instead argues that the real excitement of love comes in the unknown moments, the possibility that things could ‘fades out from kiss to kiss’. Love should be elusive, difficult to pin down and uncertain if it is to be passionate and exciting. This ‘dream’ represents the transient uncertainty of love, the continual doubt being the core of what he believes women desire.

Yeats, scorned by his personal experience, believes that what is ‘lovely’ is only ‘brief, dreamy, kind delight’, he rallies this idea, suggesting that love is something that should only last momentarily, not something to which you give your whole heart.

By beginning these lines with ‘Certain,’, the use of a caesura places emphasis on this word. Understanding that it is the very certainty in love which he is arguing against, by elevating this word he is concisely making his argument, outlining it before he begins to delve deeper. The use of the caesura could also be understood as a break, symbolising the break between him and his lover, Gonne, to whom this poem is directed.


Lines 8-10

It is upon the eighth line of Never Give All The Heart that there is a Volta, the tone of the poem becoming clearer. The message of the poem is reiterated by Yeats, ‘O never give the heart outright’. The exclamative ‘O’ furthers his sense of desolation, the poet clearly feeling pained about his lost love. He thinks he loved Gonne too much and that is why she would not love him back – it was too obvious, too permanent, too certain.

Love is described as a game to ‘play’, with women, symbolised through the synecdoche of ‘smooth lips’. Yeats suggests that women are all just playing at love, never fully committing and instead enjoying the game, more that the feelings involved.


Lines 11-12

Yeats states that the reason he was never good at this ‘play’ of love was because he always gave too much of his heart to love. Indeed, because of his devotion he is ‘deaf and dumb and blind’, unable to really content in the games because of his completely devotion. The use of polysyndeton gives the poem a sense of confusion, as the poet lists all the follies he is attributed with due to giving all his heart away.

The rhetorical question that follows this use of polysyndeton emphasises his dismay, unable to believe all he has lost due to loving too much.


Lines 13-14

The final couplet of Never Give All The Heart is reflective, discussing Yeats’ own circumstance. The ‘this’ of ‘he that made this’ is referring to the poem itself, the titular instruction ‘Never Give All The Heart’ ringing true. In writing this poem, Yeats understands where he went wrong, the ‘cost’ being the loss of his love. The third person ‘he’ brings a note of tragedy to the poem, with Yeats seemingly trying to distance himself from himself, perhaps due to his melancholy shame at losing the thing he loved the most.

The final line summarises his pain, Yeats ‘gave all his heart and lost’. The final rhymed couplet between ‘cost’ and ‘lost link the two words, efficiently outlining exactly what the ‘lost’ has ‘cost’ him. It is an incredibly sad moment to end the poem on, the sonnet being more about the tragedy of love that love itself.

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Jack is undertaking a degree in World Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team in 2019. Poetry is the intersection of his greatest passions, languages and literature, with his focus on translation bridging the gap.

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