What is “Sailing to Byzantium” About?
The poem “Sailing to Byzantium”, written by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), is seemingly written about how time affects us, and how someone can become eternal to avoid its effects. As the poem was written in 1926, with Yeats at 61 years if age, the poem reflects his fears of aging and becoming obsolete, with the main theme being that of the mutual human/animal condition: We are born, we live and then we die. The narrator of this poem seeks a place where he will be able to be one with the monuments of history, so that he will live forever. The place he has chosen is Byzantium (which has subsequently been known as Constantinople, Nova Roma and currently Istanbul), because of its rich history and monuments linked to the past. The narrator hopes that by journeying to a place rich in monuments, he will escape his moral bindings and overcome the human condition. In the first line of the poem, the narrator states that his country has been dominated by the young, and the old are becoming has-beens (it is safe to say that this country is Ireland, since this is Yeats’ homeland): “That is no country for old men.” In 1922, the Irish Free State was established in Ireland, and up until that point, England was in charge of Ireland. With this new separation came a new generation of leader, and with these new leaders came a new set of laws by default (Yeats served as a Senator in Ireland, and was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature; he was the first Irishman ever to have been awarded with this award.) As Yeats was 61 when writing this poem, it makes sense that he was exploring what it meant to be old, and how one stays the same in a world that is changing very rapidly. “The young in one another’s arms” promotes the idea of young love, innocence and adolescence, perhaps being an analogy of how the new Irish Free State is kind of like young love; all is new and exciting, as there have been no real complications within the situation....
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