Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats
Art’s pretty. It’s often sparkly and full of gold (in this poem, at least). Really, what’s not to like? That’s what our speaker thinks, at any rate. As old age approaches and nature becomes threatening, art starts to sound like pretty good stuff. For one thing, it doesn’t age (like his body will). For another, it doesn’t ever go out of circulation (again, like his body will). If you’ve got a pretty picture, chances are that someone will always want to look at it. That’s where our speaker’s plan comes into play. He’s figuring that, if he can concentrate his soul and his artistic sensibilities into a single work of art, he’ll turn what’s left of his spirit into something that’s eternal. Remember how your elementary school art teachers always told you to "express yourself?" That could be this guy’s motto.
- Lines 7-8: References to "sensual music" and "monuments" craft a metaphor that refers to the human experience as different forms of art.
- Lines 13-14: The second stanza picks up the same metaphor that we’ve read about in the first. Now, however, the speaker extends the metaphor, suggesting that music (like life) remains a rough art because no one is available to teach you how to sing.
- Lines 16-17: This, folks, is a simile. The sages stand as if they were pieces of gold in a mosaic. The "as" (a comparative term) is our signal that a simile’s in action here.
- Lines 26-27: The repetition of "g"s at the beginning of several words in this line is a form of alliteration. Here, the alliterative effect is also a repetitive one: the word "gold" appears three times in the two lines cited.
- Line 29: He’s talking about a golden sculpture of a bird. Imagining that the bird can sing, the speaker employs animism to give a piece of artwork animal-like characteristics. Check out our analysis of Line 29 in "Nature" for another reading of the line.