Write a critical appreciation of the poem “Sailing to Byzantium”.

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Sailing to Byzantium is a notable literary work by William Butler Yeats. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of Sailing to Byzantium.


Write a critical appreciation of the poem Sailing to Byzantium.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) is one of the central figures in the galaxy of 20th-century literature. His acclaimed poem Sailing to Byzantium is a specimen of Yeats high imagination and romanticism. The poem centres around how the situation becomes different from the perspective of stages of life.

 Background of the poem: “Sailing to Byzantium” is a poem by W. B. Yeats first published in the 1928 collection of poetry The Tower. It suggests a metaphoric spiritual journey to Byzantium, also known as Constantinople, the capital city of the Roman Empire. Yeats explores his thoughts and musings on how immortality, art, and the human spirit may converge. Yeats wrote this poem after getting over from Malta fever.

Subject matter of the poem: Sailing to Byzantium is a poem in which there is a clash of opposites. The basic idea is the placement of the old against the young. Old age tells the poet excludes a man from the sensual joys of youth. The world appears to belong completely to the young; it is a place for the old. Indeed, an old man is scarcely a man because he is a tattered coat upon a stick. In short, the poem’s subject matter is the spiritual quest for ideal beauty or heavenly pleasure.

Romantic elements: The poem is replete with romantic elements. This is the only poem through which we can negotiate Yeats as a romantic poet like John Keats. The romantic elements of the poem are as follows:

Subjectivity: The poem is engulfed with a first-person point of view, though the overall position is objective. The poet does not care for bodily concepts in this poem. He mainly focuses on the spiritual concept of peace of soul that is absent in the chaotic city life based on materialistic gaining.

“……. I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make…”

High imagination: Yeats has applied the techniques of John Keats in this poem based on his high imagination. Byzantium is a historical allusion that symbolizes an imaginative ideal world free from all kinds of fret and fever of the materialistic world.

“That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,”

The beauty of nature: Yeats minutely depicts the beauty of nature that is not less sensual than any romantic poet. Through the different beautiful objects of nature, such as birds, trees, golden bough and so on, the poet proclaims that Byzantium is a country irrespective of age.

“Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.”

Symbols and images: Symbols and images are the souls of poetry. Yeats is no exception to this tradition. Rather he is more prolific in the case of the use of symbols and images. The poem’s title symbolizes a spiritual journey to the world of ideality free from corruption and diseases. Byzantium also represents the world of art and culture. The phrase a tattered coat upon a stick symbolises the pathetic situation of aged life. The images of the poem are complex. Hammered implies the effort of life. Holy fire symbolizes purgation and purification. Gold mosaic is the symbol of difficulties of life that are not available in the ideal world. In short, the whole poem is symbolic and packed with images.

Form and style: Sailing to Byzantium is a lyric in which the poet has used sundry poetic techniques. Using various poetic techniques, Yeats describes the metaphorical journey of a man pursuing his vision of eternal life and his conception of paradise. It comprises four stanzas in Ottava Rima, each with eight to ten accent lines.

In termination, it can be said that this single poem is enough to trace the high poetic qualification of Yeats in his final stage of poetic development. This poem certainly affects the conscience of human beings for the spiritual quest of ideality beauty like John Keats Ode to a Nightingale and Grecian Urn.