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The Wild Swans at Coole W.B. Yeats Written 1916. Published in ‘The Wild Swans at Coole ’ (1917) PowerPoint Presentation
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The Wild Swans at Coole W.B. Yeats Written 1916. Published in ‘The Wild Swans at Coole ’ (1917). Ballad like lament for a lost Ireland. Existential lyric of love and loss. Simple lyric of romantic yearning. Mannered, magical lyric on a disappearing world.

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The Wild Swans at Coole

W.B. Yeats

Written 1916.

Published in ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ (1917)

slide2

Ballad like lament for a lost Ireland.

Existential lyric of love and loss.

Simple lyric of romantic yearning.

Mannered, magical lyric on a disappearing world.

Pastoral poem searching for a mythical peace.

Q. Which poems do these lines best summarise? What can we see by way of connection between these descriptions?

slide3

The Wild Swans at Coole (1916)

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky;

Upon the brimming water among the stones 5

Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me

Since I first made my count;

I saw, before I had well finished,

All suddenly mount 10

And scatter wheeling in great broken rings

Upon their clamorous wings.

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I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, 15

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,

Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,

They paddle in the cold, 20

Companionable streams or climb the air;

Their hearts have not grown old;

Passion or conquest, wander where they will,

Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water 25

Mysterious, beautiful;

Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool

Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day

To find they have flown away? 30

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The poem is set in Coole (Cuil) Park, Co. Galway (Gaillimh), home of Lady Gregory who was a patron and friend of Yeats.

(See notes on September 1913)

Yeats was 51 when he wrote this poem. He had first met Maud Gonne in 1889 (aged 24) and proposed to her in 1891, 1894, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1908, asking her for the last time in 1916.

He first visited Coole Park in 1897 (aged 32), having began a year long affair with Mrs Olivia Shakespear in 1896. He eventually married, in 1917, Georgie Hyde-Lees who was 26 but only after being rejected by Iseult Gonne (Maud’s daughter!) earlier that year who was 23 at the time.

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Yeats’s Women

Maud Gonne

Georgie Hyde-Lees

Olivia Shakespear

He said of his relationship with Gonne that he was ‘involved in a miserable love affair that had, but for one brief interruption, absorbed my thoughts for years past and would for some years yet.’

Q. Who do you think this poem is about? Maud Gonne? Or Iseult? Olivia Shakespear? Or Georgie?

Iseult Gonne

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The Wild Swans at Coole (1912)

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky;

Upon the brimming water among the stones 5

Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me

Since I first made my count;

I saw, before I had well finished,

All suddenly mount 10

And scatter wheeling in great broken rings

Upon their clamorous wings.

But now they drift on the still water 25

Mysterious, beautiful;

Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool

Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day

To find they have flown away? 30

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, 15

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,

Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,

They paddle in the cold, 20

Companionable streams or climb the air;

Their hearts have not grown old;

Passion or conquest, wander where they will,

Attend upon them still.

Q. This was the original arrangement of the stanzas. How does this change the tone of the poem? How does it change the meaning?

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‘His most classically perfect love poem.’

(Greening 2005)

‘My soul is an enchanted boat

Which, like the swan, doth float.’

PB Shelley ‘Prometheus Unbound’ (1820) II.V. lines 72-73

‘At the end of the poem is he dreaming now or still asleep? Is he reliving his dream of poetic fulfilment with hope? Or despair at his loss of creativity? Or fear of death?’ (Greening 2005)

‘Yeats’s syntax here is plain, but not colloquial, like a formal conversation…’

The swans are quietly made into symbols of permanence, feeling, inspiration, ready to delight other men’s eyes when they have deserted Yeats. The desertion is imagined but feared upon awakening from his sleep, his reverie, his obsession.’

Richard Ellmann ‘Yeats: The Man and the Mask’ (1985)

‘I would that, we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea;

We tire of the flame and meteor, before it can fade and flee;’

WB Yeats ‘The White Birds’ (1893)

Q. Write a short paragraph explaining how each of these quotes relate or help contextualise your understanding of the poem ‘The Wild Swans at Coole.’