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Sailing to Byzantium

Sailing to Byzantium


by William Butler Yeats

Sailing to Byzantium Theme of Old Age

Growing old just isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. "Sailing to Byzantium" begins as a meditation on the things which age leaves behind: bodily pleasure, sex, and regeneration. As death approaches, the speaker turns towards the possibility of rebirth as a potential solution for the trauma of watching his own body deteriorate. The line between spiritual and physical rebirth becomes blurred as the speaker imagines placing his soul into an art object, something that can outlast all mortal creatures.

Questions About Old Age

  1. Is the speaker of the poem an old man? How can you tell? If he’s not, how does this change your reading?
  2. Which does the poem value more: youth or agelessness? What textual evidence allows you to draw your conclusion?
  3. Does age matter in Byzantium? If so, how?
  4. How does this poem define old age?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Because he travels to Byzantium, the speaker finds a way to assert the value of the wisdom and strength that he’s accumulated over the years of his life.

"Sailing to Byzantium" isn’t so much a poem about the consequences of aging; it’s a critique of life itself.

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