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Pour wine and dance, if manhood still have pride,
Bring roses, if the rose be yet in bloom;
The cataract smokes on the mountain side.
Our Father Rosicross is in his tomb.

Pull down the blinds, bring fiddle and clarionet,
Let there be no foot silent in the room,
Nor mouth with kissing nor the wine unwet.
Our Father Rosicross is in his tomb.

In vain, in vain; the cataract still cries,
The everlasting taper lights the gloom,
All wisdom shut into its onyx eyes.
Our Father Rosicross sleeps in his tomb.

What does "pull down the blinds" mean in that context? How is it related to the 'party' held in the second stanza?

Source

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    Per the Oxford Dictionary, "blind" refers to a screen for a window, especially one on a roller or made of slats. Maybe they want some privacy for their party? Apr 24, 2018 at 22:25

3 Answers 3

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Yeats was Irish, and in literal terms this is a reference to the Irish Catholic funeral custom of a Wake.

"Blinds" here refers to a window-covering. In Yeats' era, wooden shutters, sometimes known as blinds, were commonly used to shut out light instead of curtains. Covering windows to signify a death is a practice which dates back to Victorian times, both ensuring privacy for the mourning family and a notice to possible visitors that a death has occurred inside the house.

A Wake is an extension of this mourning, during which mourners spend a night in the house with the corpse. Although sombre, attendees at a Wake often do their best to celebrate the life of the deceased: there will be food and alcohol and sometimes music and dance. Hence the lines:

Pull down the blinds, bring fiddle and clarionet,
Let there be no foot silent in the room,
Nor mouth with kissing nor the wine unwet.

And, as you might expect, the windows are usually covered during the wake. Hence: "pull down the blinds". Mirrors are also traditionally covered, although a window may be left open in the room where the corpse is resting.

Of course, the line also has symbolic meaning. "Pull down the blinds" is suggestive of closure, of an ending: it is an act undertaken at the end of each day. It takes place as dark is closing in, and brings further darkness, shutting out all outside light from the room. Hence it is, as a phrase, a powerful euphemism for death.

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  • The poem says that Father Rosicross is already entombed; would there be a wake after he has been buried? As you say, the corpse is usually in the house during a wake.
    – verbose
    Oct 23, 2023 at 1:15
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As Gallifreyan mentions in his comment , to "pull down the blinds" means to draw the window shades for privacy. In his youth, Yeats was a member of the Rosicrucians, an esoteric society whose beliefs blended Christianity with traditions such as alchemy and Hermeticism. The celebration here is a Rosicrucian gathering, and the blinds need to be drawn to preserve the secrecy of the mystic order.

This poem draws upon Rosicrucian beliefs to make a point about contemporary artistic and philosophical endeavor. One such belief is that the body of the legendary founder of Rosicrucianism, Christian Rosenkreuz, remains undecayed. Yeats's 1895 essay "The Body of the Father Christian Rosencrux" in its entirety reads as follows:

The followers of the Father Christian Rosencrux, says the old tradition, wrapped his imperishable body in noble raiment and laid it under the house of their order, in a tomb containing the symbols of all things in heaven and earth, and in the waters under the earth, and set about him inextinguishable magical lamps, which burnt on generation after generation, until other students of the order came upon the tomb by chance. It seems to me that the imagination has had no very different history during the last two hundred years, but has been laid in a great tomb of criticism, and had set over it inextinguishable magical lamps of wisdom and romance, and has been altogether so nobly housed and apparelled that we have forgotten that its wizard lips are closed, or but opened for the complaining of some melancholy and ghostly voice. The ancients and the Elizabethans abandoned themselves to imagination as a woman abandons herself to love, and created great beings who made the people of this world seem but shadows, and great passions which made our loves and hatreds appear but ephemeral and trivial phantasies; but now it is not the great persons, or the great passions we imagine, which absorb us, for the persons and passions in our poems are mainly reflections our mirror has caught from older poems or from the life about us, but the wise comments we make upon them, the criticism of life we wring from their fortunes. Arthur and his Court are nothing, but the many-coloured lights that play about them are as beautiful as the lights from cathedral windows; Pompilia and Guido are but little, while the ever-recurring meditations and expositions which climax in the mouth of the Pope are among the wisest of the Christian age. I cannot get it out of my mind that this age of criticism is about to pass, and an age of imagination, of emotion, of moods, of revelation, about to come in its place; for certainly belief in a supersensual world is at hand again; and when the notion that we are 'phantoms of the earth and water' has gone down the wind, we will trust our own being and all it desires to invent; and when the external world is no more the standard of reality, we will learn again that the great Passions are angels of God, and that to embody them 'uncurbed in their eternal glory,' even in their labour for the ending of man's peace and prosperity, is more than to comment, however wisely, upon the tendencies of our time, or to express the socialistic, or humanitarian, or other forces of our time, or even 'to sum up' our time, as the phrase is; for Art is a revelation, and not a criticism, and the life of the artist is in the old saying, 'The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the spirit.'

Yeats, William Butler. "The Body of the Father Christian Rosencrux". 1895. Ideas of Good and Evil, 1903. Retrieved from wikisource 22 October 2023.

"The Mountain Tomb" says in poetry what this essay says in prose. In the essay, Yeats says that contemporary artistic and/or mystical works are merely "ephemeral and trivial phantasies" compared to those of ancient or Elizabethan times. In the poem, he likewise says that self-styled seers may rejoice at having found Father Rosencrux/Rosicross's body, but all the music and wine are "in vain", as Father Rosicross still "sleeps in his tomb". The works together claim that celebrations of contemporary achievements are futile, because "the wizard lips are closed", and "all wisdom" is still "shut" in the "onyx eyes" of the "inextinguishable magic lamps" that light Father Rosicross's tomb.

Yeats fit uneasily into the mystic societies of which he was a member. He had been asked to leave the Theosophical Society in 1890, and resigned from the Golden Dawn in 1901. The essay and the poem show his skepticism that those societies had any enduring insights. He dismisses their efforts, and those of contemporary writers, as mere commentaries on past achievements rather than original and vivid productions.

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  • Wonderful answer! Let me add that I think the poem is still clearly describing a wake; the wake is the literal part of the metaphor (the vehicle), while this answer explains the figurative, and arguably more important, part (the tenor). So in my opinion, both Matt Thrower's answer and this one are valid.
    – Peter Shor
    Oct 23, 2023 at 18:37
  • @PeterShor Thanks for the kind words! But would there be a wake after the deceased has been entombed?
    – verbose
    Oct 24, 2023 at 0:51
  • If the poem isn't meant to evoke a wake, why the fiddle, clarionet, dancing, kissing, and wine?
    – Peter Shor
    Oct 24, 2023 at 1:11
  • They're celebrating the fact that they found Father Rosicross's body. From the essay: "other students of the order came upon the tomb by chance."
    – verbose
    Oct 24, 2023 at 1:38
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Father Rosicross could very well mean that Jesus in the tomb is not risen but He's asleep. "Pull down the blinds"..."bring fiddle and clarionet" no foot silent...nor mouth "unwet" from kissing and wine means we should be wetting our lips with kissing and wine. Means Jesus is asleep (dead)and not watching and the people should party and have good time. "Bring wine and dance" "if manhood still have pride" Jesus was a killjoy and robbed us of pride."bring roses...yet in bloom" even if roses are not in season metaphysically nature is coming forth to rejoice in Father Rosicross' death. The cataract is a volcano with an open firey pit and cries out in vain...means Jesus'Sacrifice was in vain. Yeats was a pagan and he believed in fairies. Yeats was quite anti-Christian as this poem shows.

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    Hi and welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. This would be a more convincing answer if you could provide any evidence that Father Rosicross is meant to be Jesus. Some of the claims (e.g., that "the cataract is a volcano with an open firey pit") seem quite far-fetched. Can you cite any sources that would support your interpretation?
    – verbose
    Oct 23, 2023 at 1:14

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