English Literature II
April, 14th, 2014
The Transcendence of Art in W. B Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium”
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet, dramatist and author born in Dublin in 1865. As he lived during a period of political, economic and even social turmoil, his poetic style went through five periods that adapted to the current situation not only in Ireland, but all over Europe. Yeats’ special interest in the Celtic Revival Movement led him to become one of the founding members of the National Theatre of Ireland in 1904, which became the flagship for Irish playwrights and actors. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole ...view middle of the document...
Byzantium is mainly a trading city: a center of power, knowledge and art, where “monuments of unageing intellect” (8) can be found. In the speaker’s view, Byzantium is “no country for old man” (1), but a city crowded by younger generations. Yeats thinks of aged men as “paltry thing[s]” (9) and “tattered coat[s] upon a stick” (10). However, there is still hope for old men since a journey “To the holy city of Byzantium” (16) will immerse them in a world of timeless art and spirituality.
The solution to the speaker’s desire for transcendence is found in Byzantium, where he hopes sages become the “singing masters of [his] soul” (20). In other words, the speaker is expecting that the sages appear in the fire and “Consume [his] heart away” (21) into an existence outside time, where he can become an inspiring and entertaining “artifice of eternity” (24) like outstanding works of art do. In the last final stanza of the poem the speaker declares that once out of his body, he will become a work of art that transcends the passing of time. The metaphor Yeats uses for the work of art is a golden bird, which sits on the branch of a golden tree “to sing/ To lords and ladies of Byzantium/Of what is past, or
passing, or to come” (30-31-32). In other words, the speaker imagines that he will be transformed into a work of art that transcends the passing of time and that it will survive for generations.
It can be concluded that “Sailing To Byzantium” illustrates the concepts of life and art uniquely and it demonstrates how ordinary life, by means of art, can be transformed into something enduring. Even though the speaker describes Byzantium as a city for the youngest souls, he affirms that it is in this holy city where the elderly have the possibility of eternity.