The view of death from an aged individual can be one of acceptance of his life’s end or one of mystified wonder over the immortality of the soul. Both William Butler Yeats and David Herbert Lawrence take the latter view in their respective poems, "Sailing to Byzantium" and "Shadows." By viewing death as a continuation of their soul’s life in a different realm of being, they provide a comforting solution to the fear that death may be the end of their existence. In W.B. Yeats’ "Sailing to Byzantium" and D.H. Lawrence's "Shadows," death is addressed from the viewpoint of one preparing for its eminent arrival; Yeats, however, expresses the belief that he can live forever when his soul becomes a form of art whereas Lawrence states that death delivers him "to the hands of God to send [him] forth as a new man."
"Sailing to Byzantium" presents the end of a man’s journey through life in which he yearns to, "once out of nature," be cast in gold as a work of art. By using the motif of a journey to parallel the end of one’s life, Yeats presents Byzantium as the ultimate destination for his mundane body. He contrasts the "holy city of Byzantium" with the country for the young, a land which he has now departed. In the land of the young, "the aged man is but a paltry thing" who is out of place among those who are "caught in the sensual music." The knowledge that comes with age, including the respect for things immortal, causes the traveler to leave the place that "neglect[s] monuments of unageing intellect." The realization that life is ephemeral is a divisor separating those who reside in the land of the "caught" young and those who exhibit free action by traveling...
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Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 128-132.
Holdberg, Michael. " ‘Sailing to Byzantium’: A New Source and a New Reading." English Language Notes VII (1974): 111-116.
Macheice, Louis. "The Ash of Poetry." The Poetry of W.B. Yeats. London: Oxford University Press, 1941. 139-141.
Olson, Elder. " ‘Sailing to Byzantium’: Prolegomena to a Poetic of the Lyric." University Review VIII (1912): 257-269.
Panichas, George A. "Voyage of Oblivion." Critics on D.H. Lawrence. Ed. W. T. Andrews. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1971. 121-123.
Perloff, Marjorie. "The Rhyme Structure of the Byzantium Poems." Rhyme and Meaning in the Poetry of Yeats. Mouton & Co.: Paris, 1970. 122-131.
Young, David. "Byzantium and Back." Trouble Mirror: A Study of Yeats’ ‘The Tower.’ Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1987. 14-29.
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