The Cap and Bells by William Butler Yeats.
This poem, from this Irish poet, about unrequited love, was gifted to me by my husband.
What a man—my husband.
It’s ironic how the words fail somebody, like me, who loves words so much when I try to describe my love for this man (I mean my favorite book is the dictionary). It just seems that there is no description worthy enough to explain how much I love him. I often feel how the speaker in Poe’s poem, Annabel Lee feels when describing love “But we loved with a love that was more than love,” but less crazy. I don’t think I would lie down by his tomb ever night. Although, I have already made this clear to my husband that when our time is up to leave this earth, I am going to make sure we go together because I couldn’t imagine being without him (Ok. Writing that out for the world to see, I realize, now, that seems even crazier than the speaker in Annabel Lee… I get now why my husband eyes his drinks suspiciously when I remind him of this idea).
Now before you go rolling your eyes and saying, “gag me” at this adoration (or calling the police) you must understand that we have been with each other for almost 20 years and have ridden the roller coaster of life together. Sometimes we can annoy the shit out of each other as much as we love each other. But, at the end of the day, there is nobody that I would rather have to kiss me good night and wish me sweet dreams than my husband. He is my love and my life. My happy place is cuddled up in the crook of his arm, my head placed upon his chest. No yoga practice could ever relax me as quickly. And when his chest is wet with my drool, he doesn’t complain. He just pulls me in tighter. That’s my man. My man, whom before we even met, had his favorite poems printed and framed.
They say when you meet the love of your life, you will know. I knew when I first saw him as a tough bouncer in a club. I knew he had a poetic soul behind his muscled exterior (let’s pause here for a moment while I recall that muscled exterior.…Ok back to his soul) This was confirmed when I eyed the poems by Frost and Yeats neatly printed and on display in his home. And they were there before he even knew my appreciation for poetry. He wasn’t playing any games to get me ( he already had me anyway—reference back to muscles and poetic soul). I was in awe that such a practical, scientific mind had a great appreciation for these poems. He not only decorated with them, but he kept them in his sight for inspiration.
I mean do I know how to pick ‘em or what? (Trust me, though. I went through a lot of edits before I discovered my opus.)
Today, he continues to love me masterly and is my biggest support. Like in the case of our royal poem today, my husband treats me in such a way that I can say, “It’s good to be the Queen.”
The jester, in The Cap and Bells, giving every part of himself to the young queen in this poem would have made her so happy if given the chance as well. If the social class system and her marriage (we can assume a new marriage and an arranged one, just by the small way she is introduced as “young queen”) was changed. The jester risked everything in this narrative poem to prove his love to the young queen. He sent her his heart and soul. When that didn’t work, he sent all that he had left:
“ 'I have cap and bells,’ he pondered,
'I will send them to her and die’;”
I believe the young queen loved him back but didn’t know how to be with him. Maybe she didn’t want to put his life at risk. It feels like Medieval Times in this poem and if so, brutal torture was used for punishment. The guillotine seems like child play compared to the iron belt or rectal pear (google the two items only if you have a high tolerance for pain) used for punishment during this time in history. Who would want to subject their lover to that torture?
Whether the jester’s death was figurative or literal (an essay question I alway give to my students when teaching this poem), I believe the real truth in this poem is that she loved him back as much as he loved her.
“They set up a noise like crickets,
A chattering wise and sweet,
And her hair was a folded flower
And the quiet of love in her feet.”
No harm can come to him now that he has left his cap and bells and died for her. She can love him fully now.
So some may think it was an odd choice of a poem for my husband to memorize and recite to me, in place of vows, during our wedding because it may seem like the love is unfulfilled in the poem. But I think my husband’s vow was meant to explain how he would love me no matter what challenges we faced. Nothing would keep him from loving me. He is certainly a man of his word because I have really tested him over the years. He, however, continues to love me with everything he’s got.
So, I am beyond pleased to say almost twenty years from when first we met, my love, has kept his promise. And when my phone chirps with the sound of crickets, I quickly correct people when they think I chose that text tone to mean my husband just puts me to sleep to explain it’s because these two crickets have been lucky enough to find their life long mates. And my husband’s texts are “A chattering wise and sweet.”
So take a moment to treat yourself royally and read “The Cap and Bells” by William Butler Yeats here:
You will quickly see why it was such a gift.
The picture at the top of this page was my gift to my husband after we returned from our honeymoon in Yeat’s homeland, Ireland. We keep this rendering I made of the jester and the young queen hanging above the framed poem of The Cap and Bells in our bedroom. There we, also, keep “the quiet of love in” our feet.”