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Sailing to Byzantium W.B. Yeats Written 1927. Published in ‘The Tower’ (1928) PowerPoint Presentation
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Sailing to Byzantium W.B. Yeats Written 1927. Published in ‘The Tower’ (1928). Sailing to Byzantium. ‘Now I am trying to write about the state of my soul, for it is right for an old man to make his soul, and some of my thoughts upon that subject are here...’ WB Yeats . Can I go there?.

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Sailing to Byzantium

W.B. Yeats

Written 1927.

Published in ‘The Tower’ (1928)

slide2

Sailing to Byzantium

‘Now I am trying to write about the state of my soul, for it is right for an old man to make his soul, and some of my thoughts upon that subject are here...’

WB Yeats

can i go there
Can I go there?
  • Sadly no... Byzantium was an ancient Greek city on the site that later became Constantinople (modern Istanbul).
  • It was founded by Greek colonists from Megara  in 657 BC. The city was rebuilt and reinaugurated as the new capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine I in 330 AD and subsequently renamed Constantinople.
  • The city remained the capital of the Byzantine Empire until 1453, when it was conquered and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Since the establishment of modern Turkey in 1923, the Turkish name of the city, Istanbul, has replaced the name Constantinople in the West.
  • Yeats saw the Byzantine Empire, along with the Renaissance, as one of the high points of civilisation/ high point of gyres
symbolism of byzantium
Symbolism of Byzantium
  • An ideal state of mind beyond life
  • Represents the perfect aesthetic
  • The perfection of art allows the artist to transcend daily life, the ego, nature, death, relationships, desire
  • Art is not personal here; it is art for art’s sake
the byzantine artist
The Byzantine artist...
  • Whether painters, mosaic makers, illuminators, illustrators of books, song writers, goldsmiths, silversmiths... All artists are impersonal.
  • They work without consciousness of individual design
  • They are absorbed in their subject matter/ the creation of art itself
  • Their aim is to represent the visions of the whole people NOT the individual
note on form ao2
Note on form – AO2
  • OttavaRima – loose iambic pentameter stanzas with an asymmetric rhyme pattern
  • A sestet and a couplet: ABABABCC
  • Renaissance form that Yeats discovered in Italy with Lady G in 1907
  • Associated with aristocratic poise, ceremony and custom; Yeats often uses in reflective poems (e.g. ‘Among School Children’
  • Provides a sense of balance and shape and possibly, reflection (link to structure in ‘Wild Swans at Coole...)
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Sailing to Byzantium (1927)

I

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.

II

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,

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.

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III

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.

IV

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.

interpretations
Interpretations
  • An allegory of the process by which fantasies are made into art?
  • About the artfulness of art?
  • A rejection of the personal in art?
  • A metaphysical poem as much as a symbolic poem?
  • Reflects Yeats’ commitment to the craft of poetry, above all else?
  • Or as Yeats suggested, is it ‘over and above utility...something that wrings the heart’?