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Sailing to Byzantium

Sailing to Byzantium


William Butler Yeats

Sailing to Byzantium Analysis

Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our...

Form and Meter

Divided into four eight-line stanzas, "Sailing to Byzantium" takes on a sort of formal regularity. It’s actually written in ottava rima. OK, that’s a lot of technical jargon to throw ou...


This guy is a bit hard to pin down. Although our speaker’s the only real character in this poem (besides the sages, who get a tiny shout out a bit later on), he never really reveals that much...


Byzantium was an ancient Greek city. It’s now Istanbul, Turkey. Before it was Istanbul, it was Constantinople. Byzantium, however, was around from around 670 B.C. to 190 A.D., when it was cap...

Sound Check

If you’ve ever seen Macbeth or watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, you’ve probably seen some witches at work. Their language starts to become singsong, as if they’re using thei...

What's Up With the Title?

Well, if our speaker is "sailing to Byzantium," then the title is a big signal that the poem takes place in the middle of a journey. As it turns out, this journey seems to be both literal (the spea...

Calling Card

If you’ve read "The Second Coming," you know that Yeats is a big fan of gyres. A gyre is a vortex of sorts – like a whirlpool or a hurricane or anything else that moves in spirals. ("Gy...


Yup, in terms of tough, this guy’s up there on the charts. Sure, it’s not written in Swahili. Then again, it sometimes seems like it might as well be. What in the world does "perne in g...

Brain Snacks

Sex Rating

There’s not much sex in this poem. After all, our speaker is a bit more worried about dying than getting it on. When we do hear about sex, however, it’s in a very naturalized light. Peo...

Shout Outs

Byzantium (title, 16, 31) Ancient Greece (30)

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