Analysis of Yeats' Sailing to Byzantium

Topics: Afterlife, Soul, Life Pages: 4 (1361 words) Published: November 28, 2011
“Sailing to Byzantium” Essay
After reading “Sailing to Byzantium,” by W.B. Yeats, I began to think about what message he was trying to communicate with the reader. Yeats uses symbolism, imagery, and cosmic irony to convey the message that a physical, mortal life limits us in our ability to live life to the fullest, as we can only do in an eternal, spiritual, after life. This message is told through the speaker of the poem who we know is a mortal, and although it is not definitively stated, believed to be an elderly male. This can be deduced as we see lines referencing, “old men” and “an aged man” throughout the poem. The symbolism in this poem is how Yeats most strongly grabs his reader’s attention. This led me to analyze the subject of the poem, which is the cycle of life and death, as well as the mystery of a spiritual life after death. Yeats is expressing to the reader that one’s physical life is temporary and will eventually gets phased out of the mortal world with age, just as we were phased into it. He continues that only in an afterlife is one truly free to live an eternal life. Furthermore, Yeats takes us to his afterlife, or Byzantium, comparing his desire to become a beautiful piece of Grecian art, perhaps a statue or saint as I imagined. The poem is written in four stanzas, which all contain 8 lines. We established above that the speaker is an elderly man, and in the first stanza Yeats takes us to the young world that the speaker no longer feels he belongs in. The first stanza describes this world as Yeats places, “the young in one another’s arms” and “birds in the trees,” to really give us that feeling of a world with vibrant, youthful life in it. He then reminds the reader that even though he has painted this young world, everything in it will eventually die although we don’t tend to think about this until it’s almost our time to go. We can see this in the phrase, “Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect...

Cited: Sources:
Shmoop Editorial Team. (November 11, 2008).Sailing to Byzantium. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from
Yeats, William Butler (14 Nov 2003). Sailing To Byzantium. Poetry X, Edited by Jough Dempsey. Retrieved 09 Nov. 2011 from
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