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Sailing to Byzantium Poetry Analysis

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Sailing To Byzantium Poetry Analysis Sailing to Byzantium is a poem written by W. B. Yeats portraying the agony of old age and the painstaking implorations and hopes the speaker has of leaving some form of permanence as a monument to his soul. This poem depicts a metaphorical journey of leaving the country of the young that the speaker can no longer relate to and traveling to Byzantium, a world of artistic magnificence and permanence. The poem portrays themes of aging and death, exploring the speakers desires to leave a mark on the world. This depressing theme creates an ironic contrast and a sad parallelism against the poetic form of ottava rima that it is written in. Throughout the poem, use of symbolism is central, first emerging in the title of the poem and continuing to be implemented through the prominent motifs of music and birds. The speaker also uses the image of a scarecrow-like figure to illustrate the absurdity of a tattered, useless old man and thus emphasize his consuming fear of the aging process. The underlying theme of Sailing to Byzantium is the speaker's intense dread of age and death, leading to a fascination with the artificial which manifests itself in his desire to leave behind a timeless monument. The poem begins with painting a picture of nature in all its youthful glory with "the young" people of his country encircled "in one another's arms", "birds in the trees"; "the salmon" falling alongside the "the mackerel-crowded seas". ...read more.


The title of the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" also adds to the ottava rima style, as it seems to hint at the beginning of an epic quest. This induces an ironic effect as the traditionally epic contents of such a poetic form contrast against Yeats' rather depressing poem about "a tattered" old mans fervent desire to leave something behind. Additionally, the ottava rima form traditionally contains a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC, which is perverted to suit the tone of this poem. The poem begins by employing traditional rhymes such as "the birds in the trees" and "the mackerel-crowded seas". But gradually, dissonant half rhymes such as "the gold mosaic of a wall" and "the singing-masters of my soul" begin to appear. Implementing this corrupted ottava rima form along with its twisted rhyme scheme helps to reinforce the contents of the poem through creating a wry contrast and an unconventional parallelism. Though the speaker is not a traditional hero, he bravely left his old country which was "no country for old men", gallantly attempting to seek not victories on the battlefield, but new truths, new life forms. The use of symbolism is a crucial component of Sailing to Byzantium and first emerges in the title of the poem. The term "sailing" illustrates a metaphorical journey, giving substance to what the speaker is trying to achieve and "Byzantium" represents a symbol of artistic and intellectual permanence, which is what the speaker considers to be the only achievable form of immortality. ...read more.


The speaker expresses his fear of aging through creating the absurd image of a hollow, scarecrow-like figure desperately clapping to prove its vitality. The second stanza begins through stating that "an aged man is but a paltry thing," a "tattered coat upon a stick," unless his "soul claps its hands and sing, and louder sing" to make up "for every tatter in its mortal dress." This describes an aged man as hollow and devoid of personality, creating the image of a scarecrow-something made from a flimsy material that is without genuine substance and subject to the elements. The image of this scarecrow-like figure clapping vigorously to prove its vitality becomes grotesque, poignantly bringing out the comic absurdity of an old man's existence. Though the rest of the poem discusses ways for this tattered heap of sticks and clothes to live on, these images and symbolism used by the speaker are difficult to escape, thus emphasizing his primary, consuming fear of aging. Throughout the poem, Yeats portrays life as fleeting and ephemeral, expressing the superiority of the world of art and showing that permanence and immortality can be achieved through such. As this poem was written in the later years of Yeats life, the themes of desperate, consuming desire to leave behind a lasting monument were perhaps a reflection of Yeats' own fears and implorations. ...read more.

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