Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats
Yeats begins his poem with a description of nature in all its youthful glory. Anything that starts out this perfect, however, can’t stay that way for long. Death is the dark underbelly of all the delightful life that the speaker references. As he ages, death seems to occupy more and more of his time. Mimicking his need to escape thoughts of dying, the poem shifts from a contemplation of nature to a discussion of art as it progresses.
- Lines 2-3: Referring to the birds singing as "dying generations" seems to be a form of synecdoche. Yeats isn’t only referring only to birds (or to the "young/ In one another’s arms." He’s talking about all living creatures.
- Lines 5-6: Using lists to describe both all living creatures and the stages of their lives is a form of parallelism. The repetition of this pattern helps to create the sense that the speaker’s talking about all life forms – they all fit into the same pattern.
- Lines 9-10: Yeats deliberately uses a metonymic phrase in these lines, describing a man as a "tattered coat upon a stick." The tattered coat stands in for the human who wears it; in this case, Yeats uses metonymy to suggest that the man might actually waste away until the coat is all that’s left of him.
- Line 11: Using "Soul" as a way to represent the human as a whole, Yeats employs metonymy (again!).
- Line 29: The last stanza of this poem returns to the figure of a bird in a way that’s deliberately ironic. Now the bird isn’t "natural." It’s a form of art.