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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

A Short Analysis of W, B. Yeats’s ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’

A summary of a classic Yeats poem

The poetry of Yeats often touches upon the idea of chucking it all away and heading off somewhere. In ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, one of his most popular poems, the ageing poet takes himself off to the Turkish city in search of spiritual fulfilment and retraining. But one of Yeats’s other best-known poems about moving on to another place is ‘The Lake Isle of Innsifree’, a poem which first appeared in Yeats’s 1893 collection The Rose, when Yeats was still a young man in his late twenties. What follows is the poem, along with some notes towards an analysis of its meaning the language.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’

A summary and analysis of one of W. B. Yeats’s most famous poems

‘The Second Coming’ is one of W. B. Yeats’s best-known poems, and its meaning has eluded many readers because of its oblique references and ambiguous images. What follows is a short summary and analysis of the poem. What does ‘the second coming’ refer to, and how does it fit with Yeats’s own beliefs?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. Read the rest of this entry