Commentary on 'The Wild Swans at Coole' by W.B. Yeats

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Ruth Haines

Commentary on ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ by W.B. Yeats

‘The wild Swans at Coole’ is a poignant and contemplative Poem written by Yeats typical of his spiritualistic and mysterious style. It was written towards the end of his career/life, reflecting his growing realisation of human immortality in that he is growing older and nearing the end of his life. Throughout the poem Yeats constantly uses the strong image of swans, which to him appear immortal, as a contrast to his own fading life to communicate his awareness of human transience. To compliment the development of this idea of nearing death, Yeats uses a combination of natural imagery, soft language and the form of a regular lyric to create an overall serene and slightly melancholic quality to the poem.

At the beginning of poem, particularly in the first stanza the use of natural imagery and language creates a calm and serene tone. The poem follows a regular lyric structure in six stanzas of six lines each, it alternates four beat and three beat lines with the rhyming structure of ABCBDD. This helps to endure a feeling of movement/flow and it reinforces the calm tone created by the other literacy techniques used. The use of words such as ‘October’, ‘Autumn’ and ‘Twilight’ not only create the sense of time at which this poem is set, but all three evoke images of nearing the end of a time period and could be interpreted as a refection of Yeats’s idea that he is nearing the end of his life. Most of the images Yeats uses throughout are of a natural and almost elementary theme, ‘paths’, ‘stones’, ‘sky’ and ‘water’ and this is introduced from the beginning with the strongest symbol of the swan, resonating throughout the whole of the poem, also being first introduced in this stanza. This use of physical and elementary images is a contrast to the spiritualistic image of the swan, which can be interpreted as symbolic of something eternal and enduring. Further images such as, ‘..the water, Mirrors a still sky’ create a sense of tranquillity and momentary stillness which creates another  paradox to the extended idea of the everlasting movement of time that is communicated throughout the poem. The overall tone of detachment and sorrow that is created in this opening stanza is generally the tone in which the rest of the poem follows, however at this stage the main theme has not yet been fully developed and as this theme progressively emerges stanza by stanza the tone slightly changes accordingly.

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This is apparent by the second stanza. The opening line, ‘the nineteenth autumn has come upon me’ reinforces the idea that was first introduced in the first stanza of moving time and ageing. This realisation in the poets mind is reflected in the sudden movement of the swans as they suddenly all fly away before he ‘had well finished’ counting them. The use of words such as ‘great broken’ and ‘clamorous’ is a contrast to the soft and flat descriptions in the previous stanza, ‘still’ and ‘dry’ and this change evokes the feeling that the tranquillity created before is ...

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

This essay highlights the dangers of not checking your facts. The writer is led astray by the insistence that Yeats is 'near death' when it would be so easy to check the date of the poem and in what year Yeats died. Despite this, there are insights here into the theme of transience and into how the swans operate as a symbol. However, the writer sometimes makes claims which are not justified by careful and precise textual reference. ***