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A Short Analysis of W. B. Yeats’s ‘Sailing to Byzantium’

A summary of a classic poem

Growing older, feeling out of touch with the new generation superseding you, feeling surplus to requirements, waiting for death. These are, perhaps, inevitable thoughts once we reach a certain age: they certainly came to Yeats in his later years, and he frequently wrote about growing old. (See ‘Among School Children’ for another notable example.) This is what ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ is about, though it’s not all it’s about. To discover what else this – one of W. B. Yeats’s finest poems – has to say, we will have to look more closely at it. Below is the poem, followed by a brief summary of it, with some notes towards an analysis of its form, language, and imagery.

Sailing to Byzantium

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. Read the rest of this entry

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