The Scholars by William Butler Yeats: Literary Appreciation

The musical poem is written in the satirical vein. The speaker is critical of the scholars who boast of themselves as moral gurus, teaching people what is right and what is wrong. In the poem, the speaker supports passion, love, beauty and rejects the traditional notion that passions should be carefully subdued or blotted out.

William B. Yeats (1865-1939)

He is against the prevailing traditional norms as represented by the pundits who by forgetting their own past, lustful engagements (sins) impose upon others certain restrictive moral codes. The speaker is bitterly against such people.

The speaker uses the terms "bald heads" repeatedly making the scholars the subject of his attack. He is mocking at them. He is critical of the bald-heads (old scholars). They are old, learned and respectable, but forgetful too. They forget their sins (youthful passion). They give codes of behavior. They "edit and annotate the lines" of younger poets. This means, they restrict that certain things related to open human love and passion should not be exhibited. In the name of morality they censor human passions in a Platonic way. What they censor is given to us in the last three lines of the first stanza. The young lovers write poems about their beloved in "love’s despair" to flatter and attract attention of the beloved (beauty's ignorant ear). The young lovers toss on their beds for their unhappy luck. The lovers' rhymes (poems) are mercilessly censored by the scholars or the traditional minded educated people whom the poet turns towards sarcastically. There is also the bitter sense of love's loss in the stanza.

In a series of repeated words, the pod in the second stanza equates the so-called scholars with the common people. We have here the scene of scholars shuffling in the carpeted room (indicating their narrow sphere) and "coughing in ink"— vomiting what they were taught and not what they really felt. The scholars in this state are no better than other people. Their thought is no higher than that of the common people. They are no better in terms of knowledge too. Ultimately the poets put the question whether the scholars really lived the way they now behave. The reference to Catullus, the first century Latin poet renowned for his love poems, makes the readers look at the scholars in terms of their -past life which must have been full of youthful vigor, zeal and passion.

As we noticed, the situation of the speaker is such that his expressions of love have not been truly appreciated or if that the youthful passions have not been adequately acknowledged. So the speaker mocks at the "bald headed" scholars' approach to love and life. The total intention is to condemn the pedantry of the sort the scholars represent.

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Sharma, K.N. "The Scholars by William Butler Yeats: Literary Appreciation." BachelorandMaster, 31 Aug 2014,