Poetry Commentary on 'Sailing to Byzantium' by William Butler Yeats

Essay by laurenwalker88High School, 11th grade June 2004

download word file, 8 pages 5.0

Downloaded 102 times

Sailing to Byzantium

W.B. Yeats' poem 'Sailing to Byzantium' is an allusion to the agony of old age and human mortality, and was written as a part of a collection of poems called 'Tower'. It is in very old verse form which is written as a narrative verse in first person, with four eight line stanzas. It has a rhyming scheme of ABABABCC, or two trios of alternating rhyme followed by one couplet. This rhyming scheme gives the reader the sense that the final two lines of each stanza are the most important, and that the first six are leading up to the conclusion of the stanza. Each line takes the rhythm of iambic pentameter. The tone of the poem provokes a sense of sadness in the reader as it tells of a man's desire to live forever, and how he can't accept that he has grown old and will soon die.

This tone is reinforced by the sound of the letter 'o', heavily used throughout the poem.

The poem talks of the mortality of the living, and how the elderly are a reminder of this. The youth are caught up in the moment and do not wish to be reminded that there will come a time when they too will grow old and die. Upon this realisation, he decides to travel to the holy city of Byzantium. Byzantium (which was renamed Constantinople, then Istanbul) was a city in the Eastern Roman Empire. The journey to Byzantium is not a literal one, but a metaphorical one which represents the acceptance of mortality, artistic splendour and a way of immortalising oneself through art. Art is an artificial creation, and is something which can stand the test of time and will remain beautiful from the moment it is first...