Sailing to Byzantium W.B. Yeats Written 1927. Published in ‘The Tower’ (1928) Sailing to Byzantium ‘Now I am trying to write about the state of my soul, for it is right for an old man to make his soul, and some of my thoughts upon that subject are here...’ WB Yeats Can I go there? • Sadly no... Byzantium was an ancient Greek city on the site that later became Constantinople (modern Istanbul). • It was founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 657 BC. The city was rebuilt and reinaugurated as the new capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine I in 330 AD and subsequently renamed Constantinople. • The city remained the capital of the Byzantine Empire until 1453, when it was conquered and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. • Since the establishment of modern Turkey in 1923, the Turkish name of the city, Istanbul, has replaced the name Constantinople in the West. • Yeats saw the Byzantine Empire, along with the Renaissance, as one of the high points of civilisation/ high point of gyres Symbolism of Byzantium • An ideal state of mind beyond life • Represents the perfect aesthetic • The perfection of art allows the artist to transcend daily life, the ego, nature, death, relationships, desire • Art is not personal here; it is art for art’s sake The Byzantine artist... • Whether painters, mosaic makers, illuminators, illustrators of books, song writers, goldsmiths, silversmiths... All artists are impersonal. • They work without consciousness of individual design • They are absorbed in their subject matter/ the creation of art itself • Their aim is to represent the visions of the whole people NOT the individual Note on form – AO2 • Ottava Rima – loose iambic pentameter stanzas with an asymmetric rhyme pattern • A sestet and a couplet: ABABABCC • Renaissance form that Yeats discovered in Italy with Lady G in 1907 • Associated with aristocratic poise, ceremony and custom; Yeats often uses in reflective poems (e.g. ‘Among School Children’ • Provides a sense of balance and shape and possibly, reflection (link to structure in ‘Wild Swans at Coole...) Sailing to Byzantium (1927) I That is no country for old men. The young In one another's arms, birds in the trees —Those dying generations—at their song, The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect. II An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence; And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium. III O sages standing in God's holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, And be the singing-masters of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire And fastened to a dying animal It knows not what it is; and gather me Into the artifice of eternity. IV Once out of nature I shall never take My bodily form from any natural thing, But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make Of hammered gold and gold enamelling To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or set upon a golden bough to sing To lords and ladies of Byzantium Of what is past, or passing, or to come. Interpretations • An allegory of the process by which fantasies are made into art? • About the artfulness of art? • A rejection of the personal in art? • A metaphysical poem as much as a symbolic poem? • Reflects Yeats’ commitment to the craft of poetry, above all else? • Or as Yeats suggested, is it ‘over and above utility...something that wrings the heart’?