William Butler Yeats Poems

William Butler Yeats Poems

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William Butler Yeats, born in 1865 and died in 1939. Yeats is one of the greatest poets that is well known in the twentieth century. Also a philosophical person, Yeats had developed his own philosophy which states, “Yeats developed a philosophy that united his interest in history, art, personality, and society. His basic insight was that, in all these fields, conflicting forces are at work. In history, for example, as one kind of civilization grows and eventually dies, an opposite kind of civilization is born to take its place. Similarly, human personalities can be defined as opposites: the creative or subjective person versus the active or objective person.” (Prentice Hall Literature [page 1144 Yeats’s Philosophy]). With this said, Yeats believed that if you believed there was such a thing called a “soul” you would not only live a life of concentric circles, but indeed there would be this thing we call an “afterlife”. Thus, explaining Yeats’s Philosophy, meaning that we will be reborn depending on whether or not of you wanted to live life, or as he states it in Sailing to Byzantium, live the new life like a monument. Critic Richard Ellmann states, that Yeats’s poetry is based on the opposition between “the world of change” and a world of “changelessness”. Evidence of this is supported in Yeats poetry, When You Are Old, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, The Wild Swans at Coole, The Second Coming, and finally Sailing to Byzantium. All five of these poems represent change and stability in each poem; however, the change can vary among nature and civilization.
In the first text, one of Yeats’s poem, When You Are Old, demonstrates a change in the physical appearance of civilization. An example is as follows, “When you are old and gray and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book, and slowly read, and dream of the soft look your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;” (Prentice Hall Literature [page 1140 lines 1-4]). When You Are Old, by Yeats, describes how a man once young grew old and lost his beauty. As described in the text, one thing that changes is the physical appearance of a human beings face. Related to today’s society we begin to come up with “cures” to prevent aging, even though we basically drag around a decaying body waiting for our soul to set free, we find ways to prevent everything from sagging and bagging.

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Furthermore, The Lake Isle of Innisfree describes change in a different perspective. This change that the speaker explains is the change not by human kind, but rather a change in society as a whole. “And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; there midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, and evening full of the linnet’s wings.” As stated in the text The Lake Isle of Innisfree, by William Butler Yeats (Prentice Hall Literature [page 1141 lines 5-8]). Society is a changing environment every day, but when does it stop changing? Even though when you live in a city, where things are constantly changing; however, the speaker in this poem wanted to escape from the noise in the city to a peaceful rural area. Which explains how a place like Worland, WY, could have such a big difference compared to a over populated area like New York, NY.
Also from Yeats is a poem called The Wild Swans at Coole. This poem does a tremendous job of explaining both a change and stable thing in this poem. A bird is a living organism that we cannot really put an age too unless we have done some kind of research. However in this text, the speaker describes these “swans” as almost like an un-aging bird. But something that is a common concept that we all know about is that we are born to live then die. “The nineteenth autumn has come upon me since I first made my count; I saw, before I had well finished, all suddenly mount and scatter wheeling in great broken rings upon their clamorous wings.” (Prentice Hall Literature [page 1142 lines 7-12]). These swans would come to visit, due to migration, every October. When spotted, it is very hard to determine the age of the oldest bird because the old bird still acts and flies just the same as the youngest. In this poem, nature is as stable as a tree and even though it changes from fall to winter (where the trees lose their leaves), it also is related to the swans too. No matter the age of the bird, it will chirp, sing, and fly no matter what condition it is in.
Many civilizations are born, but in the poem The Second Coming, also by Yeats, it describes something about the falling of a civilization. Stated in the text, The Second Coming, “Yeats believed that history occurs in two-thousands-year cycles, during which a particular civilization is born, grows, and decays.” (Prentice Hall Literature [page 1145]). Even though the human has a capacity of great things, there is one thing that we lack, reality. In the observation of a civilization falling, it is proved that there is always something that is changing. Which living in the twenty-first century, both a blessing and a curse, can be both a change and a stable environment; however, Yeats states in his poem, “The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out when a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert a shape with lion body and the head of a man, a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, is moving its slow thighs, while all about it reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.” (Prentice Hall Literature [page 1146 lines 11-18]). Within two-thousand years down the road, how will we be remembered? With what we have created, such as technology, how will this change the civilization on Earth? The Second Coming not only describes change in the society, but eventually within years to come how stable will the change be.
Finally, Sailing to Byzantium, the last of Yeats’s poems, this poem is one of the greatest and most influential poems Yeats has written. One of the most influential poems that is read, Sailing to Byzantium, describes an old man (the speaker) wanting to escape a city. Stated in the text, 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.” (Prentice Hall Literature [page 1147 lines 1-6]). Many children are born every day, but most don’t even make it to see today, or their future. In line 6 of Sailing to Byzantium, it describes something that is always changing engineering and technology in this modern era. This line plays an important role, not only in my life but in my reading as well. We are begotten, born, and then we die.
All five of these texts have a way of relating to change or stability. However, Richard Ellmann writes that Yeats’s poetry is based on the opposition between “the world of change” and a world of “changelessness”. This is indeed true among every poem that I have read. These five poems have a great example of change or stability whether it deals with the civilization of humankind or nature. When You Are Old, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, The Wild Swans At Coole, The Second Coming, and finally Sailing to Byzantium, are related to Richard Ellmann’s critique on page 1150 of the related topic of change and stability. Which are very well placed in each of these poems.



Works Cited

Prentice Hall Literature Volume 2
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