Yeats- Byzantium

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The poetry of William Butler Yeats deals with a variety of different themes from the political and historical to the magical and mystical. Whilst his patriotic poems are a call to arms for those like him who desired a return to the age of revolutionary heroes, it is Yeats’ poems that deal with myth, magic and symbolism that reveal the deeper side of his poetic imagination. This essay will deal with the related poems Sailing to Byzantium and its sequel of sorts Byzantium.

Sailing to Byzantium is a poem that symbolises the agony of old age. It tells of a spiritual journey to what the poet considers as an ideal land, the ancient city of Byzantium, having:
“…Sailed the seas and come / To the holy city of Byzantium.” (Yeats, William Butler, Sailing to Byzantium, 1926, Of course, it is a strictly spiritual journey and not a real one as the city of Byzantium was renamed Constantinople in the 4th century AD. However, the speaker is merely describing the city as he imagines as an ideal home for his soul. He sees the architecture of the ancient city as the perfect place for his immortal artistic soul to reside for eternity. He no longer sees Ireland as his home, referring to it as “no country for old men”. Indeed, Yeats sees it as a land full of youth and life, with the young laying in one another’s arms, birds singing in the trees, and fish swimming in the waters. There, “all summer long” the world rings with the “sensual music” that makes the young forget the old, whom the speaker unashamedly describes as “Monuments of unageing intellect.” His old country is a symbol of a world he has outgrown through his old age, as both a world he can neither understand nor be understood in (SparkNotes Editors, “SparkNote on Yeats’s Poetry.”, SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 6 Mar. 2012,

The speaker refers to an old man as being a “paltry thing,” symbolised as merely a...