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A Short Analysis of W. B. Yeats’s ‘Long-Legged Fly’

A summary of a classic Yeats poem

‘Long-Legged Fly’ is one of the great poems about silence. Silence is found elsewhere in Yeats’s work – in ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, for instance, he longs to escape to the tranquillity of the isle mentioned in that poem’s title – but ‘Long-Legged Fly’ is about, in Yeats’s own words, how the mind moves upon silence. Here is the poem, along with a brief analysis of its meaning.

Long-Legged Fly

That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence. Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of W. B. Yeats’s ‘Leda and the Swan’

A summary of a classic Yeats poem

‘Leda and the Swan’ (published in 1924) is one of W. B. Yeats’s most widely anthologised poems. The poem, which somewhat unusually for Yeats is a sonnet, is about the rape of the Greek girl Leda by the god Zeus, who has assumed the form of a swan. Here is ‘Leda and the Swan’ and some notes towards an analysis of this intriguing and enigmatic Yeats poem.

Leda and the Swan

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies? Read the rest of this entry

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