sailling to byzantium

Sailing to Byzantium summary

The poem “Sailing to Byzantium” was written by ‘William Butler Yeats’, in 1926 and got published in the collection ‘The Tower’ in 1928. The collection contains 21 poems, and ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ is the first or the opening poem.

Table of Contents


  • ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, was written in the year 1926 and got published in the year 1928(that is after 2 years).
  • The poem got published in the collection named “The Tower” which contains 21 poems, and ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ was the opening poem or the first poem in it.
  • The poem has 4 stanzas, and each stanza contains 8 lines in it, that is, in total 32 lines. So, we can clearly say that it is written in the “OTTAVA RIMA” poetic form.
  • It is written in iambic pentameter and it contains 10 syllables in it.
  • In this poem, “Sailing to Byzantium”, W.B. Yeats is going to Byzantium not in reality but through his imagination


  • Old age
  • Expectation vs Reality


Stanza 1

Ireland is not a country for the old man as the young generations do not care about the old man and are lost in their sensuality putting arms in one another under the trees where birds are singing. ‘Those dying generation’ signifies the youth who had lost the morality of life and do not know how to lead their life i.e., they are just born and die with no moral values or aim to live their life.

The song of the youth, the salmon falls (waterfall full of salmon fish), the mackerel(a kind of fish) crowded seas, and also fish(animals), flesh(humans) or fowl(birds) want all summer long as summer indicates the happy time for the all the species.

But being caught in the sensual music all (the youth generation) had neglected the unageing intellect of monuments (works of art).

Stanza 2

An aged man is only a paltry(insignificant) thing. A tattered(torn out) coat upon a stick, unless a soul (of holiness, artistry, spirituality) enters to make it happy and sing louder for every tatter in its mortal (human) dress.

There is no singing school of holiness, spirituality, and artistry in Ireland and people are busy with their significant magnificence monuments (they are busy with their own life and they don’t care about anyone else life)

Now in this stanza, the poet had arrived in the holy city of Byzantium (associated with Christianity) after sailing the seas of imagination

Stanza 3

O sages” (of the church of Ravenna) emphasis is given to the second word, that is, apostrophe had been used here. The sages are standing in the gold mosaic (design made on the wall) of the wall, which comes from God’s holy fire. Perne (moving spirally) in a gyre (moves in a circular motion like a hawk, when it goes for its inspection) symbolizes the complexity of life.

And be the singing masters of my soul – that is, be the spiritualist, holiness, and artistry of his life.

It consumes his heart away which is sick with desire, so he wants to be free from all types of desires that fasten to the dying animals (mortal human body).

It knows not what it is – he doesn’t know what to do and what he wants to do but he wanted to be part of immortal life rather than to be mortal and die someday without any spiritual, artistry, and holiness within himself.

Stanza 4

He does not want his bodily (human) form ever from any natural (changeable) things as it has to die someday.

But he wants to take the form of the Grecian (of Greece) goldsmiths with hammered gold and enamelled (decorated) in such a way that it never dies and people use it as a tradition/legacy to the family forever. And keep the drowsy Emperor awake by becoming a golden bird that sings for the Lords and Ladies of Byzantium about their past, passing (present), or to come (future).


  • A body is mortal and can become aged with time but spirit and soul can be ageless and this spirit gains spiritual knowledge in the metaphoric journey to Byzantium.
  • He takes a form of art to enter the world of eternity. Escape from the difficulties of age-related problems and escaped from the dying animals
  • He ultimately found his goal, that is, his actual purpose, since no one was giving importance to his mortal body in this world, he wanted to become immortal by transforming into a golden bird in his next life.
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