Sailing to Byzantium

Sailing to Byzantium

by William Butler Yeats

I

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

III

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

IV

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Summary of Sailing to Byzantium

  • Popularity of “Sailing to Byzantium”: William Butler Yeats, a great Irish poet, wrote this poem. It is a narrative poem about nature. It was first published in 1928. The poem speaks about the journey of an old man who is traveling to a new country. It illustrates how he seeks spiritual guidance and discovers the sublime work of art and aging.
  • “Sailing to Byzantium” As a Representative of Nature: This poem is about a man escaping from his country to a place where he can revive his soul with glorious work of art. As a speaker of the poem, he declares he does not belong to his country as it is full of young people. To him, the young generation lives in the present moment and do not think about death. They are absorbed in gaining worldly pleasures, which never allows them to understand the cyclical nature of life. Therefore, they not only neglect the old men that are wiser than them but also neglect the art that neither dies nor grows old. The old speaker feels helpless and decides to move on. This is how he imaginatively sails to Byzantium to illuminate his soul with glorious works of art. He wishes to get transformed into a golden bird so that he could become an eternal piece of art. What, however, stays in the minds of the readers is that he does not give up on life and struggles to elevate his soul to the level of eternity.
  • Major Themes in “Sailing to Byzantium”: Man versus nature and eternity are the major themes of this poem. The poem presents two things: the transience of life and the permanence of nature. The speaker wants to escape from the world where wise people are neglected. The young generation is so much caught up with life that they fail to understand what the natural world offers to them. Being wise, he knows that man can find solace and satisfaction in the lap of nature. Hence, he prefers leaving his country and happily sailing to Byzantium, which offers him immense pleasure and fruits of eternity.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Sailing to Byzantium”

Literary devices are tools used by writers and poets to convey their emotions, feelings, and ideas to the readers. William Butler Yeats has also used some literary devices to bring depth to this poem. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been discussed below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /a/ in “An aged man is but a paltry thing” and the sound of /o/ in “My bodily form from any natural thing.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /l/ in “To lords and ladies of Byzantium” and the sound of /f/ in “Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long.”
  3. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “In one another’s arms, birds in the trees”, “O sages standing in God’s holy fire” and “Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech used for an implied comparison between different objects. There are three metaphors used in this poem. For example, “A tattered coat upon a stick, unless”. Here, the poet compares himself to a scarecrow. In “And fastened to a dying animal,” he compares himself to a dead animal. In “For every tatter in its mortal dress,” he compared the body with a dress that will be worn out someday.
  3. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. For example, “Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing.”
  4. Oxymoron: It is a figure of speech in which contradictory terms appear in conjunctions. For example; “Consume my heart away; sick with desire”, here sickness presents desire and desire suggests passion.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Sailing to Byzantium”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas in this poem, each having eight lines.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme, and this pattern continues to the end.
  3. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “trees/seas”, “take/make” and “thing/sing.”

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are suitable for expressing an adventure journey and enjoying the view of historical sites.

Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.