Wine Comes In At The Mouth

Love Poem by William Butler Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.


William Butler Yeats photographed by William Charles Beresford 1911“Wine Comes in at the Mouth” is also known as “A Drinking Song.” It was included in W.B. Yeats’s fifth volume of poems titled, The Green Helmet and Other Poems, and was published in 1910 when Yeats was 45 years old.

The poem consists of six lines and is often quoted as a toast. However, sometimes the first four lines are quoted as a complete quatrain and sometimes the first two and the last two lines are quoted together as a quatrain. In any form, the poem generally makes the listener smile and think.

The poem has a smooth flowing form with good rhythm and rhyme. Each line contains three poetic feet. The first two and the last two lines are structured with two iambic feet followed by an anapestic foot. Notice that the first line is missing the initial unaccented syllable; essentially, the poem begins on the downbeat. The middle two lines have a slight change of pace as they are structured with the anapestic foot in the middle of the line. The effect of this gentle, unhurried rhythm is to make the poem easy to remember and pleasant to recite.

The rhyme scheme of the poem is a simple ababab. The odd lines are a repetition or near-rhyme while the important even lines are exact rhymes. The effect of the rhyme scheme is to give the poem a clever feel.

William Butler Yeats photographed in 1923The subject of the poem is love, and two senses are invoked, sight and the palate, which heighten the listener’s involvement. Wine, often an important part of sophisticated courtship, is cleverly included in the poem, which makes the poem an appropriate toast to an admired lady. It is often suggested that the lady Yeats had in mind when he wrote the verse was Maud Gonne to whom he had proposed marriage four times and had been turned down on each occasion.

Perhaps the sigh at the end of the verse can be interpreted as the romantic notion that love is unattainable. On the other hand perhaps the sigh can be interpreted as the hopeful expectation that the loved one will be impressed.

Listen to a good reading of the poem with an appropriate accent by Ernst Pattynama at Librivox here.

Here is a fun parody of the poem by Jay Scott.

Lunch comes in at the mouth,
And weight goes onto the thighs,
And all we learned in our youth
Is hatred of exercise.
I lift my fork to my mouth,
While reaching for the fries.

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