The question, in this post’s heading, is the title of a book by John Powell S.J. who, in the 1960/70s, wrote a series of movingly insightful and constructively practical studies in interpersonal relationships. What does this have to do with Yeats’s poem? Read on …..
When W.B. Yeats writes about “the heavens’ embroidered cloths“, he seems to be imagining the beauty of the skies above, as if consisting of a series of ever-changing “cloths“. They can either be “blue” in the light of day, or “dim” in the “half-light” of dusk, or “dark” at night. They can be radiant with the “golden” light of the sun, and the “silver” light of the moon and stars.
Yeats wrote this poem for Maud Gonne, a much loved, fellow Irish Republican. When he says, “I would spread the cloths under your feet“, it’s hard not to recall the irresistible, even if apocryphal, story of Sir Walter Raleigh laying his plush velvet cloak under the feet of Queen Elizabeth, lest a muddy puddle should dampen and spoil the royal shoes and socks! But take that or leave it, it’s an image of thoughtfulness, care and consideration for someone of value and importance.
What does Yeats mean when he describes himself as “being poor“? Is it that these ‘heavenly cloths‘ are to be regarded as ‘priceless’, in which case he could never afford to buy them? If so, then perhaps the only “cloths” he can offer are his poems, which arise from and give expression to his thoughts, and feelings, and “dreams“. This is where that question in the title comes in.
When we share with another person, not just comments on the weather, or ‘safe’ thoughts and opinions, but our innermost feelings, our insecurities and fears, our hopes and dreams, we make ourselves vulnerable to hurt. The answer to the question, “why am I afraid to tell you who I am?” is simply this – that if I share who I am with you, and that is rejected, then I have nothing left of any value to share.
Life’s most precious people are those we know we can trust. No matter what we share with them, they will never trample us underfoot – they will “tread softly“. Their love for us is unconditional, as will be our own in return and, together, we will then share some of life’s most precious moments. But for every person who risks sharing something personal with us, the same should apply – tread softly when you tread on their dreams. There’s enough hurt in this world already without our adding to it.