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

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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. He wishes (after death) to be gathered 'Into the artifice of Eternity'. After his bitter description of old age, he adds 'Unless / Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress'.   His poetry is his consolation.  But his attitude towards his aging self is mostly one of angry disappointment; often focused on his unrequited love for Maud Gonne.

One of the earliest poems in which he expresses these themes of regret and loss is 'The Wild Swans at Coole'.  In this poem Yeats meditates on the changes that have occurred in the nineteen years since he first saw, and counted, the swans at Coole Park; the home of his friend and patroness Lady Gregory, who provided it as a retreat for Irish writers and artists.  The swans have a particular significance for him as he often uses them as symbols of wild passion, as in 'Leda and the Swan'.  There are a great many of them at Coole Park; fifty nine he says, yet they paddle in pairs, 'lover by lover', which begs the question; who is the odd swan out?

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The poem is made up of five stanzas of six lines each, mostly in the traditional ballad metre of alternating four and three stress lines; though the fifth line of each has five stresses, making it a pentameter.  This unexpected pentameter line as well as the enjambment of lines has the effect of creating a 'build up' to each stanza's end. The final two lines of each stanza rhyme, giving a strong finish. Appropriately for its pensive tone, the lines have a falling rhythm; mostly trochaic with frequent dactyls. As is often the case with Yeats, he is very ...

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