The Fleeting Mind
A poet’s struggle to write is one of the last places one would think to draw inspiration; yet, in W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Balloon of the Mind,” the narrator does just that. The four-lined poem, using personification, analogy, and an overarching metaphysical conceit, manages to expose the hard work and dedication required to write a poem.
The poem starts with the narrator commanding his hands to “do what [they’re] bid,” in this case meaning writing. He is nearly begging for some sort of inspiration to come to him and seems ready to take whatever idea comes to his head first. The semi-colon at the end of the line not only acts as a pause, opposed to an enjambment, but also is a hint of hesitation in the narrator’s mind, as he is quite possibly not sure what the next line will even be. The second line creates the first part of the analogy; the “balloon of the mind” is writing inspiration. Along with personification of the narrator’s hands, the reader sees the first mention of this balloon. The personification of his hands shows that the narrator feels he has no control over the situation and that it is only his hands duty to write. However, one could argue that “hands” is simply a synecdoche for the narrator’s whole mind and body, or even the whole writing process. The end of the second line ends with enjambment, a possible indication that the narrator found more inspiration from his thoughts.
As the poem progresses into the third line, the reader sees just how the “balloon” is an idea since the comparison is further detailed. Using visual imagery, Yeats is able to convey the fleeting nature of a writer’s thoughts and ideas, that they are able to come and go in the blink of an eye, and that writing itself is much easier said than done. A gentle breeze carries a balloon away from a small child, just as a passing distraction removes any semblance of a thought a writer might have had. Using visual imagery practically any reader could relate to, the narrator visualizes the struggle of a writer putting pen to paper. He could spend hours sitting in front of his notebook or typewriter, staring at a blank sheet of paper, waiting for that idea to come, only to be left with nothing. This line of the poem is also the longest, using a structural element to extenuate the words of the line themselves, giving them the sort of dragging feeling as they are read. The forced rhyme between “mind” of the previous line and “wind” is used here to make it even clearer that the narrator is trying his best to make the poem work by having some semblance of a rhyme scheme.
The final line of the poem completes the analogy by comparing the final, written poem to a “narrow shed.” To the narrator, there are only a few ways a poem can be written. The completion of the analogy (Balloon of the mind : Idea :: Narrow Shed : Final product) , also completes the conceit, as the analogy was the main focus of the whole poem. Because of its stark and unique comparisons, it makes the conceit metaphysical. There is another forced rhyme of “shed,” which indicates that the narrator himself is most likely not satisfied with the poem he wrote.
Yeats’ poem shows the painstaking process a writer must go through before he is able to have famous words flow onto the paper in front of him. The overarching conceit and analogy extended throughout the poem are highlighted by personification as well as instances of forced rhyme and structural support. And while the poem now finds itself famous among readers, it might just simply be that they can relate.