Sailing to Byzantium : summary

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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.


Sailing to Byzantium” is a poem by William Butler Yeats. It was first published in 1928. The poem is a discussion on death, aging, and the desire to excel. It is divided into four stanzas of eight lines each.

In the first stanza, Yeats mentions an old man who no longer finds joy in the natural world. He wants to escape the limitations of his physical body. And he travels to a place where he can become a work of art, freed from the limitations of time and death. He thinks this country is no longer for old people. Here, the youths love to sing the songs of their youth. They neglect spiritual knowledge, monuments, and arts.

In the second stanza, Yeats imagines himself as a golden bird in a country called Byzantium. It symbolizes eternal life and beauty. He feels that old people are not as respected as they used to be. The youths praise the creations of the old but not the elders. He said the songs of the elderly should be sung by the elderly. He contrasts the transience of human life with the enduring beauty of art. He suggests that the only way to achieve immortality is to create art that transcends the limitations of the physical world.

In the third stanza, Yeats acknowledges the limitations of his physical body and the inevitability of his own mortality. He hints that he will die soon, but his art will live on, immortalizing him in the eyes of future generations. So, he asks all the elders to come to Byzantium.

In the last stanza, Yeats wants to stay permanently in Byzantium. Because here, people are not judged by age but by work. He reflects on the power of art to transform the world and suggests that the beauty of Byzantium can be a source of inspiration for future generations. He concludes by emphasizing the power of imagination to transcend the limitations of the physical world and achieve a kind of spiritual immortality.

 “Sailing to Byzantium” is a deeply philosophical poem that explores themes of death, aging, and the search for excellence. It is one of Yeats’s most famous works and is widely considered a masterpiece of modernist poetry.