W. B. Yeats – ‘Sailing to Byzantium’

This poem is a depiction of Yeats changing interpretations of his life and the world he essentially lives in. Yeats throughout this poem reflects on the changes in Ireland and how it is not accepted by Yeats, he escapes the reality of his unhappiness in Ireland to his imagination containing ‘Byzantium’. The idea of this mythical place holds new possibilities for him in his old age; it is an escape from his physical appearance demonstrating his dreams of such a world but no full escape of reality. The classical interpretation of Yeasts passions are intertwined in the poem, stating that the majority of our arts emerged from these origins and culture. The city represents this idea in that through classical interpretation his imaginative city survived the fall of the Roman Empire and the changes throughout the city that had occurred due to the new Western civilisation. This poem similar to ‘Leda and the Swan’ is linked to the classical world and presenting parallels between an ancient world and a modern world. Yeats interpretation of ‘Byzantium’ and the significance it has to art almost makes up for man dying, this also represents his ideas on age and the loss of life, the arts are suppose to represents lasting long after man has died, a place where art is treasured and appreciated.
‘Byzantium’ is the modern day Istanbul and although Yeats has never visited this place he has hope that it will be the same as how he imagines it to be, he imagines it to be completely different to Ireland as he is essentially trying to leave Ireland. Yeats achieves what he desires from the poem as an exile from youth and younger age in comparison to himself.
The themes present in ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ are art and nature and how overly powerful art is compared to nature, how great civilisation can control nature and desire, with a specific demonstration of art.


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