The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” is a short poem in three six-line stanzas. The poem is the sixth in a series of seven in which Crazy Jane is the persona. The title refers to a fictional character whom William Butler Yeats based upon an old woman who lived in a little cottage in Gort, a small village near Galway in western Ireland. He admired her for her audacious speech, her lust for life, and her satirical eye. She had clearly become an important symbol for him by the time he came to write this poem; for some time, he had been thinking about what it was that such a cantankerous old woman might represent.

The poem begins as a confrontation between Jane and a bishop, who happen to meet on a road. The bishop speaks in the first stanza, and Jane is the sole speaker in the second and third stanzas. That is the extent of the poem’s actions, and they can be understood easily enough at face value. The reader, however, cannot fail to be struck by the emotionally charged content of the conversation, which is highly personal in tone. The bishop condemns the woman, apparently for her unkempt appearance. The implication seems to be that she is leading an unchaste life. Jane responds somewhat defensively, but even more defiantly. In fact, she seems didactic, as if she is attempting to teach the bishop a lesson of some sort.

Since the first stanza notes that the two said “much” to each other, the implication is that the conversation recorded here is only part of what transpired, or, more likely, that the persona believes that she has distilled the incident into something of greater significance than its brevity might at first suggest.