Sailing To Byzantium - Poem Annotation

An Annotation of W.B. Yeats' 'Sailing To Byzantium'.

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  • Created on: 14-05-12 12:43
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Sailing to Byzantium
Byzantium is the name once given to what is now Istanbul. Such a place never exists; and so when
Yeats speaks of `sailing to Byzantium' he is sailing back in time. Yeats chooses to place emphasis on
the act of `sailing' to Byzantium- as if the journey is more important than reaching it. He may have
chosen to do this because `reaching' Byzantium is actually impossible.
Themes: Aging, Religion, Politics/Art, Beauty of Ireland.
Links: The Fisherman- ideals of Ireland versus the reality.
Repeated references to music and singing; as if this is a hymn of the discovery of a new world
Quote from `A Terrible Beauty Is Born' Yeats revision site: "The form of the poem is Ottava Rima,
(a-b, a-b, a-b, c-c), which is a classical form, and is commonly used for heroic/Romantic poems. The
Romantic poets inspired Yeats by expressing how they lived their lives in solitude, with
unreciprocated love- just the way Yeats has lived. They placed absolute value on emotions ­
believing that these (as opposed to reason) would yield answers. Yeats re-wrote the poem three
times, and upon eventually having it typed, he then edited further. It is as though he is searching for
his `Byzantium', (idealised place), through this work of art, and will settle for nothing less than
The fact that he used a very old, traditional rhyme scheme also emphasises the way that Yeats
favours the old ways over the new in this poem.
Ireland has moved I Use of
on from how it was A That is no country for old men. The young enjambment to
when he was young: B In one another's arms, birds in the trees, highlight the
he does not belong A - Those dying generations ­ at their song, juxtaposition
there anymore. The B The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded between old men
use of `that' suggests A seas, /the young'.
he has already left: B Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer The young have
either mentally or he C long spoiled the land
is saying this while C Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. and nature: the
on his journey out. Caught in that sensual music all neglect beauty of ireland.
Sexual acts? Monuments of our unageing intellect. Despite Yeats'
Alternative A portrayal of age in
interpretation: war, B II the next stanza,
`in each other's arms' A An aged man is but a paltry thing, here he suggests
because they are B A tattered coat upon a stick, unless that the one thing
dying. A Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing that cannot be
LINK: `Among B For every tatter in its mortal dress, killed by age is
Schoolchildren' : `old C Nor is there singing school but studying intelligence; and
coats upon old C Monuments of its own magnificence; that the young
sticks' Yeats uses And therefore I have sailed the seas and come ignore it. (neglect)
imagery, describing To the holy city of Byzantium. LINK: Among
old age as A Schoolchildren.
synonymous with B III Scorns the way
weakness. However, A O sages standing in God's holy fire people are taught
he seems to be B As in the gold mosaic of a wall, to be: fitting into
suggesting that only A Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, the `order' of the
physically are they B And be the singing-masters of my soul. world, they are

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Sailing to Byzantium
weak; `intellect' lasts, C Consume my heart away; sick with desire taught only to
and if soul can `sing' C And fastened to a dying animal study, not sing
then they will be It knows not what it is; and gather me and be real.
saved from being an Into the artifice of eternity.…read more


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