On my watch, William Butler Yeats can be classified as a Master of Literature; his poems and the meanings of this writings trancend in ways that go beyond his self. Although poems can be identified as expression of the soul, poets like him, create poems with a "mystic" composition that go beyond what the artists feels or thinks; in other words, this is a good example of a poem that goes beyond the life of the creator. "A Coat" is a poem which transmits much more context through what is presented. Although the poets die, their poems live on.
William Butler Yeats
I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’d wrought it.
Song, let them take it
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.
In literature classes, one would normally analyze the words, what the poem meant in reference to the poet's life (hopefully grasping the idea of its purpose) the rhythm and rhyme, and perhaps several meanings to what the reader think what it means, etcetera and etcetera.
Here, we will go through another branch . . .
"I made my song a coat / Covered with embroideries / Out of old mythologies / From heels to throat"
The artist made his song (which could mean his "poem") a coat, implying that he turned his creation into something he could cover himself with, or/and protect with.
He made it covered with embroderies. "Embroideries" are decorations. However, notice that he used the word 'Covered.' The coat does not need decorations, it could be a plain coat, but no, he made a coat covered with decorations. What kind of decorations? Decoration made out of old mythologies.
"Old mythologies" is a vast way of implying all kinds of mythologies, from Greeks, Sumerian, Irish, etc. Mythologies have a strong value; they are stories that explain nature, history, cultures, even psychological traits. Joseph Campbell may express better why myths are very important for us:
“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth--penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.” ― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Halfway through the poem we already have a coat which is decorated with the truth of myths "From heel to throat." Yeats could easily not include the detail of how far the embroideries go, but he did. Consequentially, "from heels to throat" gives the coat more value, it makes the coat important because it is presenting that the artist used most of what he could of this coat to present these "old mythologies." With these four lines, we have an artist who used the wisdom/knowledge of old mythologies to decorate a creation of his.
"But the fools caught it / Wore it in the world's eyes / As though they'd wrought it"
But the fools caught it; as in "those who do not know what it is, what it represents, caught it" and "wore it in the world's eyes as though they'd wrought it." And showed it to the world, forcing it, shaping it.
These lines are loaded with meanings in many themes, from journalism, news and the media, to politics, religion, education, literature, art, etc.
Meanings are always open to the mind that is observing . . .
In the personal level, it may be saying how the fools have taken something of value for the poet: a creation of his, and in the transition of exposing it to the world, have changed it. For example, an artwork that is sold across the world, becomes more of a product, a decoration, perhaps it has a financial value, but it takes the spiritual value of the artwork, which is unique.
"Song, let them take it / For there’s more enterprise / In walking naked."
In the third part of the poem, the artist makes this witty funny twist which says more than it says. "Let them take it" as if he let go of it, "For there's more enterprise in walking naked." The integrity the artist values is far more valuable than his coat.
The artist says that there is more "enterprise" in walking naked, as if, he truly represents the essence of the coat with his nakedness. A coat can be bought, taken, stolen, shaped and used, just like his creation, but the nakedness of the artist cannot, the soul of an artist cannot.
A coat may have the decorations of the truths about the nature of man, but it can never replicate the truth itself in the artist's nakedness.
An artist can have his decision of having his coat, his creation, be exposed however he wants to, even if he agrees with the fools of the world to shape it, but the true soul of his, the fact that he is the artist, the creator, is far more valuable. Now, the value is in his nakedness. When an artist is exposed, when he shows his true self, that is when the value of the human nature is reflected.
Imagine, the artist, working day and night to make this coat with decorations that speak about the truths, and then, the fools take it from him, and shape it, change it. Can you imagine what it must have been for him to let go of it? Yet, he does, when they take it, because he believes in himself, his values, his integrity, his spirituality, his nakedness.
The fools of the world may shape all the coats they wish, but the truth about an artists's transparency, nakedness, his true self is something that can't be bought; there lives true human nature.