"A Dialogue of Self and Soul" Themes

Christian Themes (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The most striking comment on Christian themes in “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” is the attitude toward the human body and experience, which reverses the traditional Christian stance. For instance, the English poet Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), in his “A Dialogue, Between the Resolved Soul, and Created Pleasure” (1681), has his Created Pleasure present the things of this earth as beautiful, pleasurable, and tempting. Human knowledge is powerful, although by implication much less so than heaven; so too the pleasures of heaven are far beyond our human existence.

Yeats’s Self, by contrast, promises nothing of this, saying rather that the experiences of this world are ignorance, pain, difficulty, and humiliation but nevertheless asserting that “I” would suffer it all again. Here the poem is filled with painful memories and images from Yeats’s life, including a reference to his long and unrequited love for Irish actress Maud Gonne (“A proud woman not kindred of his soul”). Too, the image of the Japanese sword and the old and ragged but still beautiful embroidered cloth in which it is wrapped emphasizes both the violence (which can also be seen as courage) and the power of sex in human life, reversing two aspects of a once widely held ideal of the Christian life, peace and asceticism.

Yeats is arguing that life itself is—paradoxically, because of its difficulty—our reason for existence. The Self’s arguments can be read as...

(The entire section is 499 words.)