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Sailing to Byzantium

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Explain how Yeats portrays feelings towards death in ‘Sailing to Byzantium’. !


‘Sailing to Byzantium’ shows Yeats in the latter years of his life as he is quickly approaching the certainty of death; Yeats is aware that he is ‘fastened to a dying animal’, and accepts the concept.
Yeats writes the poem with four separate stanzas to portray the numerous thought patterns and ambiguity occurring in his mind towards death; these thought patterns occupy stages on his journey to the ‘holy city of Byzantium’. This contrasts with the airman in ‘An Irish Airman’, where
Yeats’ singular stanza reflects the airman’s certainty and single arc of thought.!


Yeats’ opening is blunt and directly to the point, showing an apparent lack of enthusiasm for his old age; Yeats appears worn down with age. The rhythm of the opening stanza is slow and steady, which portrays the Yeats, the ‘paltry thing’, has also slowed down due to his age. Yeats opens the poem with ‘that’, which shows a sense of disconnection from the scene he is describing, as he is no longer part of the world as previously known. The slow, trudging tone of the poem reflects Yeats’ largely negative feelings towards old age and the realisation of death. The tone is almost tedious, the very antithesis of ‘In Memory Of’, in which Yeats speaks of the beauty of youth with bright imagery, ‘light of evening, and glamorous clothing, ‘silk kimonos’. Both ‘In Memory Of’ and ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ include the mention of summer to represent youth; however, here Yeats is past his summer and no longer feels welcome there, whereas in ‘In Memory Of’ the girls are coming into the prime of their life, ‘blossoming under summer’s wreath’; instead, Yeats is in the ‘October twilight’ of his life, as mentioned in ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’. Bird imagery is present here with
Yeats’ mention of the ‘birds in the trees’,…...

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