Derek Roch Mr. Wood Accelerated English 11 11 February 2013 “Sailing to Byzantium” You are only young once. William Butler Yeats made the most of his youth, belonging to influential groups and leading literature revival attempts. He believed that once you were older, you start to depart from the real world. He was a magnificent poet, and in one of his most famous poems, this was a leading theme. W. B. Yeats powerful poem “Sailing to Byzantium” is often considered one of his best works, examining “the conflict between youth and age through…the journey for spiritual knowledge” (Napierkowski 210).
Born on June 13, 1865, Yeats grew up in Ireland, and was the son of a lawyer and well-known painter. He was a large part of the societies in Ireland attempting to revive Irish literature. Yeats most famous published works are “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, “The Second Coming”, and of course, “Sailing to Byzantium”. “Most of Yeats’s poetry, however, used symbols from ordinary life and from familiar traditions, and much of his poetry in the 1890s continued to reflect his interest in Irish subjects” (Poetry Foundation).
Yeats writing style used ordinary symbols to create a deeper meaning, strengthening the work.
This was one of the unique styles used by Yeats that made him such a great poet. Yeats published around 50 works of poetry in his lifetime, and died on January 28, 1939 (nndb. com). “Sailing to Byzantium” is a very powerful, symbolic poem. Stanza 1 is opened with the line “That is no country for old men” (Napierkowski 207) and automatically signifies a distinction from the lives of the young and the older generation. He introduces a world full of sensuality and youth, and shows the natural world as a place “alien” to the older inhabitants.
Yeats uses examples of “Salomon falls” and “mackerel-crowded seas” to symbolize abundance and fertility (Napierkowski 207), signs of the opportunities held by the youthful. The salmon reference, as said by Napierowski, is also a symbol of death, and the journey towards it. Ending the first stanza, the rhyming couplet shows the conflict in the poem, “Youth, caught in the ‘sensual music’ of the natural world overlooks the imposing, immortal aspects of art and intellect” (Napierkowski 207). Stanza 2 introduces the speaker as very different from the previous stanza.
There is an elderly man in the stanza that is described as a scarecrow, and a bird is used to describe the man physically. According to Napierowski, youth is represented by the singing birds, while age is shown by the “pathetic scarecrow” (Napierkowski 207). The spiritual world also comes into the poem around the middle of the second stanza, with the scarecrow image being transformed into a soul. “The speaker concludes that in an ideal environment, like Byzantium, can he learn the songs of the soul” (Napierkowski 208).
Stanza 3 focuses in on Byzantium. The speaker addresses the “sages” of Byzantium which are enclosed in a holy fire, represented in a gold mosaic, symbolizing the phoenix, a myth which tells that the bird is consumed by flames and reduced to ashes in order to be reborn through its ashes. The speaker goes on to ask the sages to “make him immortal like the glorious works of art in Byzantium” (Napierkowski 208). And he finds out that for this to happen, he must allow his body to be destroyed. This home of his once youthful passions is consumed by a cleansing fire along with his body which is described as a ‘dying animal’…” (Napierkowski 208). The last stanza in this poem shows us that the speaker “renounces the natural world and chooses to recreate himself in the form of an immortal golden bird” (Napierkowski 208), most likely because the bird symbolizes the soul and is the art and beauty of the Byzantium culture, along with being immortal. After being changed, he sits in a golden tree as a true work of art, singing the immortality song. A second analysis is offered by the website bachelorandmaster. om. The author of this analysis, not named, goes on to explain the first stanza as a description of the actions of the youthful people, birds, and fishes are busy loving and reproducing. The speaker sees these actions happening throughout and remembers back to his youthful days, and celebrates it, but then “despairs of their temporal ignorance” (bachelorandmaster. com). Stanza 2 is addressing the old man himself, comparing him to “no more than a scarecrow, a tattered coat upon a stick without much physical vigor” (bachelorandmaster. com). This is proving that the old must seek the country of the old” (bachelorandmaster. com), Byzantium, which is reached by sailing the sea, breaking away completely from the young people land, and leaving behind the passion of the old them, to study the new ways of life. Stanza 3 shows the speaker appealing to the sages who stand in the holy fire and have “been purged of the last remnants of sensuality” (bachelorandmaster. com). The poet mostly wants to become an object of immortal value, pleading to God’s holy fire to “illuminate his soul”. He does realize that he is going to die soon, and wants to be an immortal piece of art.
The last stanza explains the poets want to never return to an earthly body, and rejects all living reincarnations because they all end up dying. He wants to take the shape of a golden bird, “the kind of bird which Grecian goldsmiths are believed to have designed for the pleasure of an emperor” (bachelorandmaster. com). This would allow him to be above death and decay, and sing his songs to all audiences of all the people of Byzantium for eternity. His song will be of spiritual ecstasy, and he will be surrounded by extravagant audiences for ever.
Patrick Gillespie from poemshape. wordpess. com has another analysis of the poem, a little different than the others. Stanza one in his critics view is that the poem is a “bitter sandbox-tantrum of an old man. If I can’t play then I’m going to Byzantium! ” (Gillespie). The salmon and mackerel crowded seas is an image of “life, fecundity and fertility” (Gillespie). According to Gillespie, Stanza 2 focuses on “Old Men”, and In the world of what is begotten, born and dies, the old man can only be a tattered coat upon a stick.
Let the old man rightly turn his intellect to “unaging intellect” (Gillespie). He also says that “No longer capable of (or responsive to) the “sensual music” of the world (partaking in its song), he sails to Byzantium for a new kind of life and revelation” (Gillespie). Stanza 3 is moving the story to Byzantium, as explained by Gillespie “In the first stanza, Yeats defines the country which has rejected him (or he, it) and in the second stanza, Yeats describes the old man (himself or his art). In the third stanza he moves the reader to a new stage – Byzantium. (Gillespie). Stanza 4 is, in ways, a continuance of Stanza 3, “I see the third and fourth stanza somewhat differently – the third flows smoothly into the fourth, not a contradiction but allowing for the possibility of the fourth stanza” (Gillespie). “Yeats rejects reincarnation; he’s all too ready to be done with the illusory preoccupations of youth. ” (Gillespie). He also goes on to explain the meaning of the rebirth idea, “Yeats, in my opinion, is describing a personal, spiritual transformation as manifested through his art – his poetry” (Gillespie). Sailing to Byzantium” is a poem of reflection, youthful interactions, and spiritual immortality. This is one of W. B. Yeats most recognizable, powerful, and well liked poems of his publications, and one of the top in the history of English poetry. His view on reincarnation, rebirth into a greater form, and the importance of youth and human interaction sends a very powerful message, and solidifies its place among some of the greatest poems of the modern era. Works Cited “William Butler Yeats. : The Poetry Foundation. N. p. , n. d. Web. 05 Feb. 2013. <http://www. poetryfoundation. org/bio/william-butler-yeats>. Gillespie, Patrick. “PoemShape. ” PoemShape. N. p. , 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2013. <http://poemshape. wordpress. com/2010/11/06/wb-yeats-? -sailing-to-byzantium/>. “Sailing to Byzantium : William Butler Yeats – Summary and Critical Analysis. ” Sailing to Byzantium : William Butler Yeats – Summary and Critical Analysis. N. p. , n. d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013. <http://www. achelorandmaster. com/britishandamericanpoetry/sailing-to-byzantium. html>. Ruby, Mary K. , and Marie Rose Napierkowski. “Sailing to Byzantium. ” Poetry for Students, Volume 2: Presenting Analysis, Context and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1998. N. pag. Print. “William Butler Yeats. ” William Butler Yeats. N. p. , n. d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013. <http://www. nndb. com/people/826/000031733/>. Bibliography “William Butler Yeats. ” : The Poetry Foundation. N. p. , n. d. Web. 05 Feb. 2013.
Cite this British Invasion
British Invasion. (2016, Oct 29). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/british-invasion/