Why Byzantium, Yeats? Essay

1028 words - 4 pages

The poem, Sailing to Byzantium, written by William Butler Yeats, depicts a poet’s internal struggle with his aging as he pursues for a sanctuary that allows him to become one with his soul. The poet, Yeats, is therefore sailing from his native land of Ireland to “the holy city of Byzantium,” because “that” country that he originally lived in belongs to the youth (Yeats 937). This escape from the natural world into a paradise represents the firmness and acceptance of Yeats’ monuments, which consists of his poetry. Unlike Ireland, the poet perceives Byzantium as a source for bodily and spiritual rejuvenation for his aging and redemption for his monuments.
Yeats, in the latter years of his life, chose to sail to Byzantium and transform into an entity that has fully grown out of the nature of the society. The sacred city, Byzantium, was the capital of the Byzantium Empire and served as Yeats’ place of paradise and the only place where art and man can become a single body. In contrast, he describes Ireland as a land that provides no sense of glory for the aged and their intellect. In the first stanza, Yeats associates natural images to represent the youth and the sensuality that is present in Ireland. For example, “the birds in the trees” symbolize the freedom, and the “salmon” and “mackerel” are two types of fish that occupy the seas when reproducing (Yeats 937). Nonetheless, Yeats explains that whether it is a “fish, flesh, or fowl” everything that is born must die, because that is the nature of being mortal (Yeats 937). In addition, the last two lines of the first stanza serve as a thesis to the poem, because throughout the poem, similar notions are mentioned about artistic permanence and “sensual music.” Yeats in these lines wants to emphasize that the old have become trifling because the young have become blinded by their sexual desires, and their pursuit of living the young life. According to the poet, the young underestimate the old men’s intellects’ worth and especially the monuments, which should be revered and acknowledged. However, in reality none of which Yeats idealizes about is true. In fact, in Ireland “an aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick” (Yeats 937). This metaphor alludes to a scarecrow that is being compared to no other than Yeats himself. “A tattered coat” is a reference to Yeats’ wrinkled and aged skin or his baggy clothing lying “upon a stick,” which is his scrawny, wrecked bones (Yeats 937). However, the poet can fulfill himself in Byzantium, where his soul must be set loose to study the prominence of his monuments.
In order to achieve immortality of the soul that the poet idealizes earlier, he must depend on God’s saints to free him from the physicality of his mortal body and fulfill his desires. In the third stanza of the poem, Yeats has arrived to his destination, Byzantium, in which he is standing in front of a wall that illustrates a “gold mosaic.”...

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