An Analysis of “Sailing to Byzantium” Sample Essay

The verse form “Sailing to Byzantium” is one of the most significant pieces included in W. B. Yeats’s concluding book “The Tower” . Created in the ulterior old ages of his life. many of the verse forms in The Tower trade with the issues of old age and go forthing the natural universe. but none so strongly as “Sailing to Byzantium” . Byzantium itself symbolized infinity to Yeats ; it was an ancient metropolis that represented a topographic point of artistic and rational permanency. Yeats believed that “”in early Byzantium. possibly ne’er before or since in recorded history. spiritual. aesthetic. and practical life were one. that architects and artificers… radius to the battalion in gold and Ag.

The painter. the Mosaic worker. the worker in gold and Ag. the illuminator of sacred books were about impersonal. about possibly without the consciousness of single design. absorbed in their capable affair and that the vision of a whole people. ” ( Yeats 279-280 ) The ageless being of both those universes together. mind and art together as one without being effected by an aging organic structure and natural surrounding. was something that Yeats desired as an older adult male ( possibly earlier in life excessively ) . “Sailing to Byzantium” is grounds of that chief subject that is present in many of the verse forms in The Tower ; the turning contradiction between Yeats aging organic structure and his still vernal head. and his thoughts on the contrast between the invariably fading natural universe and the of all time changeless universe of art.

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The immediate issue brought away in the first stanza of the verse form is the impermanency of the natural province of the universe. and the fact that everything life must one twenty-four hours run into an terminal. “That is no state for old men” means both Ireland and the natural universe in general. where “fish flesh or poultry. commend all summer long/whatever is begotten born and dies. ” The fish. birds. and “those deceasing generations” all represent natural entities that will one twenty-four hours base on balls. even though they are caught in “that animal music” of the vocal birds ( which is a symbol for life and the animal universe ) and look to be populating most merrily. Yeats suggests that despite their evident felicity. each is condemned to decease ; their mortality is ineluctable. and that they are pretermiting “monuments of unaging intellect” . the artistic universe or a universe of permanency and the head.

The following stanza focuses on the aging procedure of life. and how the ideal of maintaining artistic permanency and a vernal head can non be achieved by holding a connexion with anything natural. “An aged adult male is but a paltry thing/a tattered coat upon a stick” . the image of a tatterdemalion coat resting on a stick represents the thought of a straw man ; something that is exanimate and hollow. with no blood fluxing through its venas ; an object that is inanimate and missing in anything that makes it genuinely human. If person is human merely in head. than they are a “paltry thing” . person that is of small importance unless their psyche can “clap its custodies and sing. and louder sing/for every rag in its mortal dress” . Yeats conveys here that the psyche can merely be liberated from the restraints of the human organic structure by somehow linking the head with a greater power. “Therefore I have sailed the seas and come/to the holy metropolis of Byzantium” . which Yeats believed to be non merely the metropolis of artistic permanency. but besides “a holy metropolis that was the capital of Christianity. intending it was closely connected with God” ( Jeffares 252 ) . Yeats indispensable thought is that in order for the psyche to accomplish such a religious connexion. it must go forth behind all things in the animal universe.

In the 3rd stanza. Yeats describes how one can go forth behind the natural universe to come in the immortal universe of Byzantium. Yeats recalls aureate mosaics he saw in the church of Saint Apollinaire Nuova when he visited Ravenna. Italy in 1907 ( Pethica 80 ) of the “sages standing in God’s sanctum fire. as in the gold mosaic of a wall. ” The image of these “sages” was in actuality a image of sufferer being burned for their religion. and it can be seen as the ultimate manner to do a passage between the natural universe and Byzantium ; to be burned by God’s sanctum fire and allow the mind of the psyche leave the human signifier. A cardinal fact about the figures in the Byzantine mosaic is that they have non themselves succumbed to effects of clip because they are made of gold. Yeats saw gold as stand foring an stainless glare and permanency. and later in the verse form requests to go hammered into a aureate bird with aureate enameling so that he can defy clip as good.

Because these “sages” have made the perfect passage between these two universes. he calls on them to be his ushers on his ocean trip to Byzantium. to be the “singing masters” of his psyche and to assist him interrupt free from his decrepit organic structure which he now sees as a “dying animal” . “Terror and content. birth and decease. love and hatred. and the fruit of the Tree. are but instruments for that supreme art which is to win us from life and garner us into infinity. ” Yeats wanted to go forth his human signifier and go “gathered into the ruse of eternity” . and believes that this can merely be accomplished by go forthing behind the animal universe.

The concluding stanza of the verse form is where Yeats approaches the unrealistic side to happening Byzantium ; the truth behind the desire to obtain entree to this lasting universe of art. In the first line. Yeats says that he would non take the “bodily signifier of any natural thing” one time making Byzantium so that he would ne’er be susceptible to clip and would ne’er age. similar to how art ne’er decays or ages. He wanted to take the signifier of a bird. a bird made “of hammered gold and gold enameling” like the mosaics in Ravenna. so that he would ne’er age and would ever be lasting. However. as the last stanza continues. Yeats contradicts himself and his belief that the universe of artistic permanency is the ideal universe. Yeats writes that he would be a aureate bird made to sing and “keep a drowsy emperor awake” ( an image based on aureate birds that adorned trees in the castle of the Byzantine emperor ) ( Petica 81 ) ; one has to inquire why an emperor would be drowsy in a perfect universe. and why he would hold to be kept awake by the vocal of a bird.

Besides. the fact that Yeats’ aureate bird would be singing and bestiring the emperor and the Godheads and ladies of Byzantium is contradictory. because so it is the natural beauty. the animal beauty of the vocalizing that keeps them wake up. non the timeless aureate enameling of the birds. This is the first hint that the imaginativeness ever remains within bounds of mortality. The concluding line of he poem cements this belief. because though Yeats has still written line after line about doing the passage to a universe of artistic permanency where clip does non be. his shutting line “of what is past. or go throughing. or to come” reflects the line in the first stanza “whatever is begotten born and dies” . demoing that dividing the mind from the organic structure. and the natural universe from the universe of artistic permanency is something that is about impossible. or wholly impossible to accomplish.

“Sailing to Byzantium” sets out to expose the high quality of the universe of art ; to demo that permanency can be achieved through art as in Byzantium. and that human life by contrast is impermanent. Yeats uses contrasting images of the sensuous universe and the universe of art throughout the verse form. such as the vocalizing poultry and the aureate birds. the “young deceasing in each others arms” and the “sages” . making a tenseness and struggle which he hopes to decide by the terminal. Though the chief thought the verse form is to decide that such a province can be achieved. it can be interpreted as the lasting artistic universe is about an impossible topographic point to make alternatively of an come-at-able 1. Yeats sets out to turn out that worlds can exceed the natural universe. but in his shutting stanza. leaves us to believe that there is no universe of artistic permanency without the presence of nature or without the influence of natural entities.

Plants Cited:

1 ) Jeffares. Norman A. A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. Stanford. California: Stanford University Press. 1979.

2 ) Pethica. James. Yeats Poetry. Drama. and Prose. New York: W. W. Nortan & A ; Company. 2000.

3 ) Yeats. William Butler. A Vision. New York: Macmillan Printing Company. 1966.


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