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Sailing to Byzantium

Sailing to Byzantium


by William Butler Yeats

Sailing to Byzantium Spirituality Quotes

How we cite our quotes: line

Quote #1

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
[…] unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, (9-11)

The vivacity of the human soul is what saves humankind from a slow and rather painful decline into uselessness. Notice, however, that it’s not the man himself who’s clapping: it’s his soul. Does the distinction between the two make any difference in your reading of the poem?

Quote #2

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium. (15-16)

A new way of life necessitates a new place to live. The journey to Byzantium becomes a way for the speaker to reflect on past and future without really focusing on his present situation. After all, who really cares that much about a boat journey (unless, of course, it’s the Titanic)?

Quote #3

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul. (17-20)

Giving himself over completely to the sages, the speaker even seems to shift the direction of his voice. In stanzas 1-2 he seems to be reflecting on his past to himself or even to a fellow traveler. By stanza 3, however, he’s directly addressing the sages. He’s moved into his present moment (and that’s a big step, believe us).

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