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Focusing on Wild Swans at Coole, discuss the theme of time and change in Yeats.

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Introduction

´╗┐Focusing on ?Wild Swans at Coole?, discuss the theme of time and change in Yeats. The theme of time and change bringing with it loss and regret is a constant one in Yeats' work, particularly in his later poems. 'The innocent and the beautiful / Have no enemy but time', he says in 'In memory of Eva Gore Booth and Con Markievicz'. Yet despite the onset of old age, and the failings of his strength and vitality, Yeats kept his passions to the end. 'Why should not old men be mad?' he asks in a poem of that name. At the end of his life, bitterly reviewing the works of his imagination, he describes them as 'circus animals' ('The Circus Animals Desertion'). His 'ladder' is gone, he says (his poetic imagination) and he must lie down 'Where all the ladders start / In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart'. In 'Sailing to Byzantium' he describes his heart as 'sick with desire and fastened to a dying animal'. In his old age he is like 'A tattered coat upon a stick'. Though old age has its compensations too; in 'Sailing to Byzantium' he finds comfort in the intellect, and aesthetic beauty. ...read more.

Middle

The third is highly irregular, containing two dactyls and a reversed foot (an iamb). This irregularity is then constant throughout, and gives a conversational murmuring quality to the verse. The poem opens with images of peace and tranquillity and is given its solemn serenity by these beautiful images of nature. It is late in the day (twilight) and late in the year (October). The trees 'in their autumn beauty' are none the less soon going to shed their leaves and become bare. It is late in the day for Yeats too; he is now over fifty; his summer is also over and he knows he is approaching the winter of his years. The water 'mirroring the still sky' also mirrors his soul, which, as always in this lovely spot, is calm and at peace. The use of the spondee ?still sky? creates a stillness in itself, slowing the pace of the poem. Yeats has been walking the 'dry woodland paths' until suddenly, it seems, in the final lines of the first stanza, he comes upon the amazing sight of these swans, on the 'brimming water'; images of life and vitality and love, contrasting perhaps with his own 'dryness'. ...read more.

Conclusion

The "All's changed" of stanza three reminds us of the refrain from "Easter 1916": "All changed; changed utterly"; though the change described in this poem is more sudden and brutal. It has been building up unnoticed for years, until it suddenly explodes in revolution, shattering the 'casual comedy' in which they had all taken part previously, and giving birth to the 'terrible beauty' of the war for Irish independence. Time has brought about a slower change in 'The Wild Swans at Coole', and the swans here are at rest, 'Mysterious, beautiful'. Finally they will of course fly away and delight other men's eyes elsewhere. Yeats will awake some day and find them gone; just as someday he will awake to find his passions spent, and his poetic inspiration disappeared. He anticipates his loss and regret when this occurs, in the same way as he already laments the loss of his youth. So if Yeats typically sees time as the enemy, bringing change that means loss of youth, beauty and vitality; or (as in 'Easter 1916') bringing violent change and horror; he found comfort in art and beauty and his own creative accomplishment. This was his consolation for the decaying of his physical energies. No longer caught in the 'sensual music' of youth in 'Sailing to Byzantium', he seeks instead 'Monuments of un-ageing intellect'. Art defeats time, because it endures. ...read more.

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