Sunday, April 20, 2008

Poem 15

Sailing to Byzantium

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 unaging intellect.


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 have I sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

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.

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 pst, or passing, or to come.

~W.B. Yeats

My Norton Shorter Anthology of Poetry (1376 pages long) has these notes for this poem:

Byzantium: Of the ancient city of Byzantium....Yeats made a many-faceted symbol, which, since it is a symbol, should not be brought within the limits of too narrowly specific interpretation. Byzantine painting and the mosaics that decorated its churches....were stylized and formal, making no attempt at the full naturalistic rendering of human forms....In A Vision [Yeats] makes of it an exemplar of an civilization that had achieved "Unity of Being."

perne: Out of the noun pern (usually pirn), a weaver's bobbin, spool, or reel, Yeats makes a verb meaning to move in the spiral pattern taken by thread being unwound from a bobbin or wound upon it.

gyre: The gyre (Yeats' term) is a conical shape based on the geometrical figure of interpenetrating cones; here it is traced in teh falcon's sweep upward and out in widening circles from the falconer.

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