Sailing To Byzantium Analysis

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Doomed to Die But Deathless:
An Exploration of Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium”
When we die, what do we leave behind? Do we leave anything? This question haunts us all, but none more so than anyone who creates. In “Sailing to Byzantium”, W.B. Yeats is painfully aware of his mortality, of all mortality, and can no longer bring himself to exist in a place where everyone and everything is doomed to fade and die. In naming Byzantium as his destination, he calls to mind an ancient, immortal city that survived the rise and fall of the Roman empire, where art and culture flourish, and where, perhaps, an old poet could find eternal life through his work. Through the form of the poem itself, the deliberate internal repetition of key words and phrases,
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After all, traditional heroes are not old, nor are they afraid. But they do go in search of fantastic locations and mystical mentors, and through their deeds they seek immortality. Yeats echoes the everlasting nature of heroes in statuary by asking for “a form as Grecian goldsmiths make of hammered gold and gold enameling” (27). And he has “sailed the seas and come to the holy city of Byzantium” (16), which again reminds the reader of Greek heroes, like Jason or Odysseus, whose journeys were largely structured through their nautical travels. The title “Sailing to Byzantium” indicates that the journey itself is the important part, just as it would be for a classical hero; but Yeats arrives at the end of the second stanza, subverting the hero’s journey metaphor in its infancy. Byzantium is his one and only destination, and there he …show more content…
It survived empire after empire and was reborn and renamed with each new conquest – Byzantium to Constantinople to Istanbul; the Greeks to the Romans to the Ottomans. His first stanza is the only one that invokes concrete images of a world that the reader would find familiar: the young lovers, the nesting birds, the fish in the sea—all these create an image of the springtime not only of the physical world, but of life. It cements and sets that stanza firmly in our world, in the now – but that same world is the world of mortals. The following stanzas display the ancient but simultaneously eternal world the poet has travelled to—everything is golden and enameled and made by skilled craftsmen, and the ruler of that land is an Emperor, who is in himself ancient and ageless, for he is Chinese and Roman and Austrian and Russian. There is no description of this physical world, because it is both unnecessary and irrelevant. The reader knows where the poet is – he is in Byzantium, which is everywhere and nowhere, but it is not here. But in naming that city Byzantium, Yeats again invokes the ancient Greeks, the Greeks before Rome. That name summons visions of vast, impressive architecture, of men made of marble and bronze, of bards who sang their poetry around the campfire and in the halls of great kings. And again the “Grecian goldsmiths” (27) who create for the speaker a new body, when

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