Research studies

Considerations on W. B. Yeats’s Sailing to Byzantium

Prepared by the researcher –   Dr. Yahya Saleh Hasan Dahami – Associate Professor, English Department, Faculty of Science and Arts Al Mandaq –  Al Baha University – KSA Previously at Sana’a University – Yemen

Democratic Arab Center

Journal of cultural linguistic and artistic studies : Sixteenth Issue – December 2020

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
 ISSN  2625-8943

Journal of cultural linguistic and artistic studies

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Yeats’s poem, Sailing to Byzantium, is a prominent poem about the contrastive relationship between youth and aged people. It is a speculative piece of poetry that might sanction critics to profoundly contemplate the various contrasts in life between the natural elements and the symbolical elements. The poem Sailing to Byzantium is constructed in reality, though it has to relocate outside reality to afford an element of a life that is sovereign of the other.

The study intends to review the depth of some essential contrastive themes of Sailing to Byzantium such as youth, age, death, nature, abstraction, and art. The paper starts with a brief introduction, and then to be followed by a section about the poet W. B. Yeats. It moves ahead to reconnoiter the scope of the mentioned important themes in the poem, Sailing to Byzantium. After that, the study’s process shifts to the section of discussion and then a brief conclusion. In this literary task, the researcher employs the descriptive-critical-analytical maneuver.


  1. B. Yeats was born in the Irish city of Dublin in 1865. His father was the son of a prosperous family. Yeats’s parents had a significant inspiration for the life of the young man. Yeats’s mother was descended from eccentric people involved in faeries and astrology. W. B. Yeats inherited a love of his country, Ireland, from his mother, chiefly the county adjacent to Sligo’s coastal seaport. When he was eleven, he began joining the Grammar School in Hammersmith in England. From there, Yeats went on to the High School in Dublin. He was an uneven student in his studies, largely unfortunate student, prone to daydreaming and being shy. In 1884, Yeats met George Russell. Yeats, along with Russell, established the Dublin Hermetic Society for the intention of carrying out magical investigations and promoting their faith. Such an organization marked Yeats’s initial significant movement in occult studies, an attraction that he would carry on for the rest of his lifespan. He was repeatedly consulting mystics, spiritualists, and involved in the sacramental conjuring of Irish gods. W. B. Yeats used his experience of the mysterious as a source of images for his verse, and traces of his occult interests appear all over the place in his poetry.

Under the encouragement and inspiration of the nationalist John O’Leary, W. B. Yeats resumed the foundation of Gaelic authors at a time when considerable native Irish literature was at risk of being misplaced as the consequence of England’s endeavors to anglicize Ireland by means of a frequent forbiddance of the Irish Gaelic language. Around the years of the 1880s and 1890s, Yeats had a great desire to see Ireland autonomous from English domination, not realizing that power is in unity. During this period, Yeats dedicated his consideration to poetic drama, hoping to spark new attention in Ireland’s literature and culture.

  1. The Poet

Yeats is an eminent poet, a critic and a playwright. He has contributed significantly to the revival of English poetry, drama, and criticism in the twentieth century. He aspired to make poetry a place for the liberation of imagination for listeners and readers of his age. Yeats wanted listeners of poetry to be able to enjoy and praise it without high consciousness on it. According to Yeats, “poetry escapes the bounds of place and time” (Dahami, 2017a, p. 30). The verse bears marks of imaginative vitality. He was both a practitioner of poetry, drama, and a theorist. He has endeavored, through a large body of his critical essays, reviews, and introductions, to make the poetry an arena of delight, intellectual joy and a place of deliverance.

He strived to use a variety of dramatic verse because it generates opportunities for the expression of a broad range of emotions. The poet “found that usual direct terminology was not satisfactory to express deep instincts, emotions, and ideas that the psychologists had defined and employed the same methods for clarifying their purposes” (Dahami, 2019). Furthermore, “This is because the sublime human emotions can best be expressed more accurately in verse” (Dahami, 2016). Yeats realized that a successful poet in the modern age needs to use the spoken language’s elasticity and spontaneity, and this language must be gracious enough to affect the hearer. W. B. Yeats wrote a kind of poetry that was meant to be elated or passionate in which strong passions lead to a sort of purgation where the readers/listeners are left with calm minds at the end of the piece or after reading a poem.

The development of Yeats’s career as a poet can be divided into three stages. The first phase is described as a self-conscious Romanticism. His poetry in this phase is based on Irish legend and folklore. His poetry has a spiritual quality. The second phase is influenced by his loyalty to Irish patriotism. In the third, however, phase Yeats merges essentials from the earlier times. In this last phase Yeats verse is more private. He wrote about the infinity of art (Dahami, 2017, p. 87).

Yeats’ adoption of a different form prevented the possibility of its naturalization in the English theatre and its symbolic and allusive nature placed it beyond the comprehension of the popular audience. In this respect, Yeats presents an interesting contrast to T. S. Eliot, who firmly endeavored to make poetic drama a source of the secular audience’s moral and spiritual uplifting. He devoted his remaining days to his passion for poetry until his passing away in 1939.

  1. The Poem

The poet detours with us to a connotative symbol about the concept of age. It is a sort of comparison between the preferred young and the hatred old. It is a pleasant place to be if the person is young and handsome and perfect, but once he starts to express illustrating a few wrinkles or some lifeless hairs, things become ugly expeditiously. In other words, it was a rather brutal residence to be. The poet wants to confirm that no one can be young, attractive, and perfect all the time. The mission “in ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ symbolizes Yeats’s thirst to overcome human frailty and to sail ‘out of nature into perfection.’” (Probstein, 2008). He decides that the olden or ancient country is for the birds, old is near to negligence. “About Byzantium, W. B. Yeats proclaimed, ‘That is no country for old men,’ and yet very largely we treat the history, the literature, the art of Byzantium as if it were made and experienced by, if not old, then mature people” (Liz, 2010, p. 81). Mostly, the newest and beautiful gets all the attention. There is an indication that there will be no interest in anything that might stand for generations. A fresh apple looks pretty for a while, but it goes out of style when wrinkles appear on its skin; it is just plain and unpleasant. Optimistically, our narrator is an imaginative person.

“Although the poem was written in 1928, the line [That is no country for old men] became famous only in 2007, when the Coen brothers used it as a title of their film” (Orešković, 2020). Byzantium is a consecrated city that develops well for the poet. Yeats “regarded Byzantium’ in the eighth century as the centre of European civilisation and the source of its spiritual philosophy” (O’Donnell, 1995, p. 49). The speaker expects a revelation. In Byzantium, once the speaker starts discerning about death. In this historical city, death becomes something that is able to be logically thought about. It is an immense enhancement over our speaker’s ancient home. “In ‘Sailing to Byzantium,’ the doubts are incorporated in an inclusive structure in which alternative approaches conflict and cohere. Yeats reconstructs the tone of paradoxical voice of life-in-death and death-in-life” (Bharadwaj, 2018). When the speaker starts reflecting on demise, he essentially begins to figure out habits to celebrate life.

Consistent with the speaker, the best way to celebrate life is art. The learner or critic needs to realize that, after all, it is a piece of poetry. The poet decides that art is a mode to harbor the soul in a fresh ‘bodily form.’ Imaginatively learners expect a picture on the wall can talk. Moreover, art has the ability to bear witness about the past.

The poem Sailing to Byzantium, “here symbolically a holy city of the imagination” (Perrine, 1983, p. 831). was first published in 1928 in a collection with the name of The Tower. It investigates the dichotomies concerning age and youth, and between sensuality and spirituality. The narrator is present as an aged man who realizes that infancy and physical life is no longer a choice for him. He embarks on a nonphysical journey to the model realm of Byzantium. Our poet feels that the Byzantium civilization characterized a pinnacle in art and values. It appears logical that the poem represents a place where the pathetic can voyage with the intention of seeking out spirituality. In a historical place like Byzantium, the narrator has the ability to discard the natural constituent of his body all for the immortal component of his soul. Holdeman (2006), sheds light on the point, saying that the narrator of the poem “seeks it for the sake of his soul. For him, the soul can only learn to ‘clap its hands and sing’ by studying artistic ‘Monuments of its own magnificence’ in a city made ‘holy’ by its golden mosaics” (p. 82).

There are several motifs in the poem such as gold, images of birds singing, and fire. Altogether, these motifs evoke the theme of permanency. “Yeats has already begun to work out in these sketchy images of immortal “painted birds” the outline of that excellent, symbolic golden nightingale of “Sailing to Byzantium” who, free of sensual music, sings undying song” (Unterecker, 1956, p. 135).

Learners may conceive that the expression ‘that’ of the first line informs the country that it is not so remarkable for the old folks. In the opening stanza, the poet presents a realm of youth and sensuality that indicates a sort of conflict.

That is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

Those dying generations—at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel -crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect (Lambirth, 1999, p. 91).

The conflict in this piece of poetry is shown when the speaker detaches himself from such an imagined realm by stating that there is no place for aged people. The speaker believes that he is alien in this ordinary, young-looking scenery. Line three takes a bit of a quick detour about young things and beautiful birds. Suddenly, he tosses in an unexpected reference to death, not once but many. “The younger people and the mating creatures of nature, all the ‘dying generations,’ are ‘Caught in that sensual music’ of youthful lust” (Sanders, 1989, p. 12).

The representation of birds, habitually a symbol for the soul, is labeled as ‘dying generations.’ “Yeats chose “Byzantium” because it largely and undoubtedly serves as a symbol of an artistic and endless world that is free from conflicts, contradictions, and changing situations” (Abbas, 2020). Their melodies are forgettable and thus, they are associated with the real world.

Yeats’s use of the expression ‘generations’ in the third line is mainly provocative. The poem was issued in 1928. It is smack in the focus of a literary movement, which is known as ‘modernism.’ It is important to learners, critics, and scholars; however, modernism was somewhat born out of the shattering losses and disaster of World War I. The generation of young mankind who returned from the frontlines became slightly pessimistic about the whole state of their society. After 1918, the world has been altered and disillusioned by the meaningless violence and apparent futility of war. In any case, pretty much every person living in Britain missed someone they knew in the battle.

The speaker goes on his portrayal of the real world with pictures of fertility such as ‘mackerel-crowded seas’ and ‘Salmon falls,’ which are both descriptions of abundance and fruitfulness. Yeats’ image of salmon is particularly stimulating because it proposes both lives in copiousness, or the real world, in addition to the journey concerning death, or the mystical world. The speaker asserts upon the natural realm in this stanza. The human race is crammed between ‘fowl’ and ‘fish.’ They are similar to the birds and the fish. They live, and after that, they die. Annually salmon swim laboriously upstream so as to reach a dwelling to reproduce. They together work with, and against the environment. Reproduction is undeniable, natural; however, swimming upstream becomes performances that infringe nature. Motions or indications themselves are much like hovering, in which the learners are brought back to the notion of body roaming towards the soul.

These two lines present the zinger of the first stanza. People there, as it is with the metaphysical poets carpe diem, live moment to the fullest. However, they are thus caught up about things that ‘begetting’ and living then dying in which they entirely forget to consider things that could carry on their brief personal lives. At the end of the first stanza, the rhyming couplet highlights the skirmish of Sailing to Byzantium. Youth, caught in the ‘sensual music’ of the natural realm, peruses the imposing, unforgettable aspects of art and understanding.

The second stanza announces the speaker’s domain as very dissimilar from the dwelling ‘country’ mentioned in the previous stanza.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,                      piece

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

An aged man is depicted as a figure. The bird’s image is interesting since it together describes the man substantially and is a factor to the description of the nonphysical in the natural world. Whereas youth is characterized by singing birds, age is presented by a pitiable figure.

Yeats presents a small fragment of distinction between body and soul utilizing personification to permit the soul itself to ‘clap its hands and sing.’ There is a pretty picture, but of course the listener has to have a brain or at least, as it is in this case, a soul. The figure’s image is altered into the soul with an additional wave similar to the air journey. The singing and clapping of hands arouse more bird images, but now it is connected with the transcendent or nonphysical world.

In these lines, the speaker finishes that only in an ideal milieu, like Byzantium, can he captivate the soul’s melodies. The learners need to observe that the speaker elevates the city of Byzantium to a sacred city, thus believing it suitable to be the focal point of the transcendent world.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

In this poem, our speaker addresses the thinkers or ‘sages’ of Byzantium whose descriptions are enclosed, according to the poet’s perspective, inside a consecrated fire, represented in a gold mosaic. “Images of the ‘gold mosaic of a wall,’ the ‘sages’ who could be the ‘singing masters’ of his soul, and the ‘artifice of eternity’ suggest his view of the ideal art of the byzantine craftsman” (Ramratnam, 1985, p. 4). At the same time, it is a disguised bird image. Additionally, “the birds symbolize other worlds, realities to which the speaker has no access except the partial and problematic way revealed by art” (Thurston, 2009, p. 93). The thinkers or ‘sages’ might remind the learner of the antique, mythical bird Phoenix, whose body is devoured by fire, only to be regenerated from its own remnants.

In these two lines, the poet enquires about the sages to make him eternal, like the magnificent works of art in Byzantium. Here, learners might realize the quick and dirty type; to ‘perne’ is to move in rings like a spindle in a sewing instrument. “Sailing to Byzantium embodies a number of Yeats’s most enduring tropes: the old man as scarecrow, the cycles of history as the gyre, the pristine and preserved world of Byzantium as escape” (Elizabeth, 2003). The ‘gyre’ is a type of swirling whirlpool that generates spiraling motion as one of Yeats’s significant moves. Therefore, the speaker asks the statesmen to swirl around him and turn into the ‘singing masters,’ which he could not discover back in his ancient country.

In these lines, the speaker’s heart, the residence of his once youthful craving, is consumed by a purgative fire accompanied by his body that is designated as a ‘dying animal.’ Therefore, the speaker is still partaking in an exchange with the sages. Maybe the sages can work comparable to fire, devouring the heart of the speaker. The delinquent, it appears, is that the speaker’s heart is attached to the body as a natural reaction. The wicked part of the situation is that the bodies shall die. Attached to a body, the heart of the speaker cannot shatter-free and exist on its own. The speaker’s soul, without the body, like the sages, is apprehended in the ‘artifice of eternity.’ “It is what Yeats so eloquently dubbed “the artifice of eternity” in his famous poem Sailing to Byzantium” (Lauxtermann, 2003, p. 25). What exists everlasting and long-lasting concerning the artist is not only the body but also the brilliant ‘artifice’ or art. Furthermore, “the city and its art can appropriately symbolize a way of life in which art is frankly accepted and proclaimed as artifice” (Ferguson, 2005, p. 1199). The artifice befits a way in which the artist can enter the history records.

It is believed that art lasts a long, long time. As the speaker decides, the most exceptional way to protect part of himself is to make that part in ‘unnatural’ matters like art. When the speaker moves into a type of contemplative mood, his decisions seem a lot superior than they were in reality. It is virtual as if he is daydreaming about his following life.

In these lines, our speaker rejects the natural world and indicates to recreate himself in a memorable golden fowl method. He picked this method possibly because the fowl symbolizes the soul and it sings significantly as the ordinary birds presented in the first stanza. Like the sages, the speaker is thinking that he is hard ‘hammered’ gold. However, different from those birds, the golden fowl that exemplifies Byzantium’s artifice and beauty and its culture is memorable. Furthermore, “Sailing to Byzantium also points to an isle of perfect beauty, where ‘all strife is at an end’ and the ‘unity of being’ is achieved, at least for the time being, and the poet feels himself translated to the artifice of eternity” (Das, 1973, p. 162). The poet’s fancy shows us a situation that can be portrayed as a strange type of popularity; however, the speaker looks to want it. He envisages his spectators as a ‘drowsy Emperor,’ informing that if the listener is daydreaming, he might on top reach the stars.

Stirring deeper into a daydream about the future arrangement, the speaker circles himself back to the beginning of the poem, imagining himself ‘set upon a golden bough.’ He appears to propose that he might want to be a flying fowl different from the birds of nature that fall in ‘dying generations.’ The speaker desires to be a golden bird in an artistic process of transforms. Placed in a golden bush, our fanciful speaker has entirely transformed himself into a piece of art that shall not decay. The poem couldn’t be more obvious about the association of “nature and art (artifice, or what we might be forgiven for calling culture in the narrow sense), and between the body and soul” (Lennet, 2013). To sum up to the whole point, in the first stanza, the fowls of the real natural warble of ‘Whatever is begotten, born, and dies,’ then submitting themselves to die at the fingers of nature. Moving ahead to the ideal world, the poet makes his speaker warbles of ‘what is past, or passing, or to come,’ in that way representing his immortality.

Up to the present time, the only known unusual way to get old is death. The speaker of Sailing to Byzantium does not accept that preferring to avoid death and seize the mental power that he has gathered during his life right into eternity. “Yeats’s speaker famously wishes to leave the mortal world of ‘sensual music,’ be transported to Byzantium, gathered ‘into the artifice of eternity’ and to take the form of a gold bird singing on a ‘golden bough’” (Walker, 2011). So as to do this, the speaker has imagined a situation that one can navigate to where passing away is not a factor, in which someone has the ability to keep living and growing further from nature.

By showing such an idealized abode, the name of a real place like ‘the holy city of Byzantium,’ the poem proposes that the natural rule that drives listeners to demise might be broken. To the extent that it presents listeners that human life is composed of two dissimilar elements, the mental and the physical, the intellect and natural, Sailing to Byzantium is based in reality. However, it has to move outside reality to provide one of these elements a life that is autonomous of the other. The poem “emphasizes the dichotomy between physical and spiritual very sharply. ‘The country’ and ‘the holy city’ are set against each other, the one a world of youth, sex, and decay, the other a world of art, religion, and the changeless” (Zwerdling, 1965, p. 170). As W. B. Yeats was a scholar of mystic during his grownup life, the notion of a magic land in which mental power is not ‘fastened to a dying animal’ might have appeared pretty reasonable. However, critics discover his own Byzantium tough to accept since it is too remote from reality.

An important and vital idea in Sailing to Byzantium is how age affects all living phenomena, making them decelerate and lose their natural stamina and eagerness. This poem also remarks on how humans achieve mental powers as physical aptitude slips away. The images utilized in the first stanza is generally suggestive of duplicate and imitation. Instances comprise the first and second lines ‘The young/In one another’s arms,’ for observable reasons, the salmon that climbs the waterfalls to lay spawn, and the sea inhabited with the small fatty Atlantic fish, mackerel. Our poet uses reproductive pictures as the supreme influential symbol of youth. At the time his point is verified, he goes on to signify the slowing of time with more delicate imagery as the poet clarifies saying ‘studying of monuments’ to substitute singing.

On the one hand, the idea is to create benefits of being young. On the other, the young, as well as the aged, have to form different standards for themselves. Passing to the first stanza’s windup, the poet makes an allusion to ‘unaging intellect.’ Critics or learners might understand that if another writer writes the poem, it might have positioned on the clue as being the chief objective of existence as well as making the physical pleasure, particularly youth, just an introduction to be brought to an end before getting down to the affair of life. By showing equivalent balance to both primary and aged life, W. B. Yeats is examining the effects of age from a broader perspective. The poet avoids the inducement to praise the aged just for the reason that he/she is old.

When the poem Sailing to Byzantium refers to ‘the artifice of eternity,’ it is utilizing the expression ‘artifice’ to denote approximately the same matter that scholars mean by the expression ‘art’; an invention created by human thoughts. In the present society, artificiality might reach a negative connotation, as learners have the ability to understand clearly in the pride which some profitable products comprehend publicizing that they do not have any ‘artificial ingredients.’ Scholars are requested to remember for the interest of reading Sailing to Byzantium that there is a worthy reason to be pleased with the aptitude to imagine, design, and then to produce to some degree that is not delivered to them by nature. A house is a thing found in this world; however, an artistic work, for instance, a house painting, is not present except in the human mind.

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

In the final stanza of the poem, our poet, Yeats, offers his listeners a similar illustration, but instead of a house, he uses a birdie made of gold, which will by no means slow down or become feeble and certainly not die. “The speaker asks implicitly to be made into an artificial bird that might sing of past, present, and future” (Elizabeth, 2003). However, “The poem is a passionate expression of grief for the vanished country of the young. Even more, it is a lament on the carelessness and disrespect of adolescents for the wisdom of the past” (Orešković, 2020). Evaluators have stated that such a point might be a humble instance for Yeats to apply since the gold fowl is still displayed after a thing of nature. It opposes what he wrote in the lines, ‘I shall never take / My bodily form from any natural thing.’

  1. Discussion

All of Yeats’s verse echoes a complex intellectual structure which one might hardly predict lies beneath the surface upon merely reading a few verses one time or more. Several sources expound the poet’s sophisticated philosophy, thought, and mystical consideration.

The piece of poetry Sailing to Byzantium is often thought to be one of Yeats’s paramount poetic pieces. It inspects the conflict between two contrasting elements of life, young and elderliness through a model of a journey seeking spiritual awareness and experience. The resolution to such conflict is making an object that appears to represent both the natural and spiritual realms. The meshing of the two realms is an illustration of Yeats’s definition of talent. This poem tells the song of the fading generations and the immutability of the artistic method together, which is the basis of the concept of art for Yeats.

Some critics might say that the speaker of Sailing to Byzantium is an old bloke between two realms that possess all but rejected him. Now he wishes to repossess in a fresh, different mode by becoming a portion of a pure originality realm where the fleshly is changed into eternality. The poet, between the two domains, seeks to amalgamate them into one of his personal identities. The speaker in this poem has transformed the negative side of time into a positive one of permanency.

Besides, every source of skirmish is resolved during the positive side. The aged has developed to be ageless; the point is the same with powerlessness, which has exchanged for a sophisticated power.

In Sailing to Byzantium, the aging speaker seeks rebirth in an antique metropolis. W. B. Yeats hoped that his verse might survive on after his passing away. The speaker is an aging man contemplating a sort of retirement.

The analysis of Sailing to Byzantium’s context has, inevitably, led away from the poem itself and toward the pictures and ideas that the older adult becomes their opposites.

As several critics have pointed out, the apparent analog here is Yeats’s ‘Sailing to Byzantium,’ where an aged poet, rather than an aged priest, evokes timeless “sages standing in God’s holy fire,/As in the gold mosaic on a wall,’ and imagines the ecstatic artifice of Byzantine goldsmiths crafting trees and birds of precious metals (Rubin, 2011, p. 97).

This verse does not depend on this context for its potency; reasonably, the context reinforces the older adult’s shriek of pain via the poem’s several analogs of form and pictures, making around it a chain of repeats that are nonetheless in one voice. “The old man of Sailing to Byzantium’ hopes for an escape from life into an eternal artifice” (O’Donnell, 1986, p. 39). The poet, Yeats presented nothing unique or unfamiliar, in terms of his private pictures, in Sailing to Byzantium; the voyage to the other world and the soul as a birdie is very typical in his work, and even the city of Byzantium as a realm of art can be a symbol wisely defined in another place.

The narrator has navigated the seas and arrived at the sanctified municipal of Byzantium; the municipal is “a symbol of transcendental art, an entirely just symbol, for Byzantine art was transcendental – it ‘is almost entirely concerned with religious expression” (Genung, 2010). The poet made the poem distinctive in its supremacy by reversing all the images’ denotation, making it still more undesirable in its complete context than in isolation. The entire negation enhances the significant weight of the speaker’s resentment at the decline of his body and makes it flawless. The speaker is hardly an older man talking from a black disposition, but a man whose denial of life is therefore ultimate that only the making of an exceptional paradise, in thorough opposition to the poet’s vision of the mystical world, can entirely state his pain.

The target, Byzantium, probably originated at least since 800 B.C., in which it was a pagan principal city until almost the fourth century A.D. after that it was given a new name to become Constantinople as the center of Eastern Christendom. Lastly, from the fourth to the fifteenth century and then on, the city became a main Islamic and multicultural center with its new name Istanbul. While concerned in a literal drop in on to twentieth-century Istanbul as the main center of remaining art treasures from ancient Byzantium and Constantinople, the speaker is more eager to visit back in time. That is the motivation Yeats uses Byzantium to attract attention to its elongated history.

Sailing to Byzantium tells learners about a bloke who mentally feels past his prime age and sails off to a land in which emphasis is not on the corporeal achievements of an individual where he finds increasingly difficult for his getting old body. To signify such land of the mind, the poet uses Byzantium that was once the principal city of the eastern Roman Empire, approximately between 476 and 1453, outliving and making Rome survive for hundreds of years. The motive that the poet might have thought such a real city could be used to epitomize a haven for the elderly is able to be found in one of his previous literary works such as A Vision. Yeats says that “in early Byzantium, maybe never before or since in recorded history, religion, aesthetics, and practical life were one” (Stathakopoulos, D. 2014, p. 207). A Vision is a book of ‘automatic writing’ produced by W. B. Yeats and his wife. Automatic writing, known as a practice that tried to apprehend psychic vestiges without the intrusion of the conscious mind, considerably like a spiritual intermediate could ‘channel’ the voices of passed on spirits and express their expressions for them.

Our poet had been a student of otherworldliness and the supernatural from the time when his late teens. Yeats attended séances – A meeting of spiritualists – and studied the philosophies of the ancient Irish Celtic belief in addition to Neo-Platonism, Indian mystic and mysterious Buddhism. He was an establishing constituent of the Dublin Hermetic Society. Critics say that in 1893 he worked his way up to the esteemed title of being Instructor of Mystical Philosophy. Five years before in 1887, our poet was acquainted with Lady Blavatsky, the writer of Isis Unveiled, a ‘Master Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology.’ Then was introduced to the founder of a universal quasi-religion recognized as Theosophy[1]. Almost directly, Yeats joined the London Lodge of Theosophists, telling his society that the Irish literature indebted greatly to Theosophy.

  1. B. Yeats published this poem, Sailing to Byzantium, when he was in the sixties of age and he wrote it during the 1920s that was a period of swift-existing youth culture. The First World War that ended formally in 1919 is commonly taken into consideration the primary reason of the new artistic esthesia[2] known as Modernism, mostly for the reason that the scope of international involvement and the capability for large-scale devastation made obtainable by tanks, airplanes, and submarines shocked the world, making returning soldiers pleased to be breathing. Modernism indicated investigation such as imagism in poetry, jazz in music, and cubism in painting. The rush to consume money and have amusement continued until the initiation of the 1930s when hopelessness and despair affected not only America but also the financial system all over the world. According to our poet W. B. Yeats, this period was a pronounced one to be young and flourishing. It is interesting to quote Marjorie (2006),

“Sailing to Byzantium” (1927) begins with a leisurely, somewhat loose stanza about Ireland’s salmon falls and mackerel-crowded seas, but ends with a stanza in which the poet imagines himself transfigured after death into a golden bird – written in tick-tock iambs, this stanza gives the feel of a key winding the mechanical bird’s mainspring. It is a powerful conclusion, this twitter of hammered gold and gold enameling; and yet it verges on a whole world of Modernist toys (p. 73).


In ‘Sailing to Byzantium,’ W. B. Yeats, illuminating supreme mastery and skill, used profound sophisticated symbols to comparative illustration about life and death, young and old, immortality and mortality, everlasting art and the ephemeral sensual life. Through his poem, the poet effectively divulges themes, concepts, and thoughts by swinging instinctively, spontaneously, and naturally in time and space. Yeats skillfully compares life and death as well as young and old using proper and terse connotative images and allegories. ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ proves a confident conclusion that the contrasting imaginings of young and old, a piece of art and a piece of reality, as well as the imaginative Byzantium with the real Byzantium in the whole effort, is a poetic penetration of brief usage of a graceful, poetic language.

  1. B. Yeats suitably had the ability to employ symbolic philosophies, values, and images to propose rational arguments. The pursuit of personality and deliverance that characterizes this poem is of imposing concern. The poem Sailing to Byzantium is composed of a thoughtful viewpoint, in which it reflects what seems to be imaginative and comparative reflections on immortality and mortality as well as life with art. On the whole, it is evident that Sailing to the Byzantium of William Butler Yeats reveals amazing comparative events presenting a sheer illustration on life and art in addition to the imaginative Byzantium with the real historical one.


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[1] A system of belief based on mystical insight into the nature of God and the soul (word web)

[2] Mental responsiveness and awareness

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