‘That every text has its used-by date.’
Consider your prescribed text’s ideas, language and form, and its reception in different contexts.
Through the study of the works of William Butler Yeats in the current year, we can grow in an understanding of his poetry and its ability to transcend time, like the artwork of Byzantium and the beauty of nature depicted in many of his poems including ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, ‘Byzantium’ and ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’. Evidently, the statement “That every text has its used-by date” would therefore be incorrect due to the transcending nature of Yeats’ poetry through its ability to be understood, accepted and appreciated, so far from when it was composed through its ability to become more accepted over time due to social changes. Whilst Yeats rejected the modernist approach to poetry, preferring to keep traditional stanzaic forms and metres, Yeats shares authoritarian hostility to modern society, as seen in ‘The Second Coming’, depicted also in much of the Modernists work. Although these opinions along with many of Yeats’ ideas of the philosophy of the world, contributed to many controversial readings within different contexts, this does not negate the value of the poems. Their ability to still be analysed and seen as individual emphasise how untrue the statement: ‘Every text has its used-by date” really is.
While Yeats was looking into the transcending nature of the Byzantine artwork and the beauty of nature, his own poetry grew to encompass all that he was looking for in that it has surpassed his own mortality. The fact that we still, today study and appreciate his poetry emphasises how far from the truth the statement ‘that every text has its used by date’ really is. As W. H. Auden wrote in a poem titled ‘In Memory of W.B.Yeats’: “Your gift survived it all”
This encompasses the power within his poetry. His poems have ‘survived it all’ due to their underlying themes which are still relevant in today’s society. ‘The Second Coming’ exemplifies this notion that his themes correlate with those of today’s society and is also an example of where he appears to take on the ‘modernistic’ style with the lack of rhyme and structure which emphasises the chaos within the poem – just as the modernists used free-verse to emphasise the chaos and decay within society. ‘The Second Coming’, although depicting Yeats’ philosophy of the gyres and the epochs lasting 2000 years, we also see a reflection of our own society within, as we too are slipping further and further from Christianity: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer”
The ‘falcon’ being society and the ‘falconer’ being Christ, and as the gyres widen, we lose touch with Christ and ‘cannot hear’ his ruling, depicting the loss of Christianity which had been such a prominent part of the daily lives up until the 1800s. Today, with a lesser understanding of the dominance of Christ, we may not be able to understand these symbols and their power as Yeats meant for them. But such themes relate directly to our own lives, in that we too are awaiting ‘the end of the world’ or as we know it and Christians are still awaiting the ‘Second Coming’ of Christ. “… a vast image of Spiritus Mundi…
A shape with a lion body and the head of a man”
Such a ‘Christ’ image questions what we believe, with connotations of the Sphinx, the origins of civilisation. Such a creature appears to be not of human form, this same image is one of the four beasts of the Apocalypse, inferring that the end is already upon us. ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ encompasses themes relevant to our own society – the want for an escape. Yeats wishes to be transported out of mortality ‘Into the artifice of eternity’, just as everyone wishes to escape a monotonous lifestyle, into their own imaginary world.
Although Yeats rejected the modernist approach to poetry, preferring to keep traditional stanzaic forms and metres, we see similar views to the...