Poetry Commentary: The Wild Swans at Coole by Yeats
The Wild Swans at Coole by William Butler Yeats is, as the title suggests, a poem about a flock of Swans inhabiting the lake at Augusta Gregory's Coole Park residence. However, the theme of the poem is change and unrequited love, presumably inspired by the transformation Europe, and Yeats himself, underwent in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The poem is written in a consistently contemplative and plaintive tone, and it seems the poet is experiencing a sense of loss or dissatisfaction, especially in matters of love, with changes that have occurred. Keeping with the style of the romantic era, Yeats focuses his energy on glorifying nature to show the reader its contrast to the bleakness of the cities emerging and expanding rapidly across an increasingly industrialized Europe. On a more personal level, the poem reflects Yeats' unanswered love for Maud Gonne. Yeats sets a still and weathered scene in the first stanza. The word autumn in the first line symbolizes something coming to an end, and this is further emphasized by the time of day, "under the October twilight the water/ Mirrors a still sky." This lack of movement reminds the reader of death and emptiness. In the last line Yeats mentions the subjects of the poem, "nine-and-fifty swans", which is an odd number. This is significant because he later refers to the swans as couples in the third stanza, "Unwearied still, lover by lover," meaning that one swan must be alone, missing a companion. This might be Yeats' way of including himself and his rejection in the poem. In the following stanza, Yeats expresses a sense of sudden surprise in his life through, "The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
. I saw, before I had well finished." The final two lines of the second stanza may be references to the sudden violence and destruction of the First World War, "And scatter wheeling in great broken rings/ Upon their clamorous wings." The suddenness of the birds' noisy...
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