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Sailing to Byzantium

Sailing to Byzantium

by William Butler Yeats

Spirituality Theme

Art and the human spirit fuse in this poem as Yeats attempts to find some way to move outside the problems of the human body. Spirituality in this poem is strongly linked to the body: there’s a constant struggle to figure out exactly where the heart belongs. Is it part of the body? Will it die with the body? Or does it have a life and existence of its own? If so, how can the soul best express itself? Through human communication? Through art? Yeats has got loads of questions – and they don’t necessarily all get resolved here. After all, it’s a pretty short poem.

Questions About Spirituality

  1. Is the speaker of this poem seeking spiritual or physical transformation? Are the two the same thing? Why or why not?
  2. At the end of the poem, the speaker imagines being viewed by the Emperor. Is he really looking for spiritual change, or is he just imagining a better social standing?
  3. How would you describe the "soul" of a piece of artwork?
  4. What’s so awful about living in the moment?

Chew on This

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

The speaker’s desire to change bodies is a cop-out: he doesn’t want spiritual re-birth, just a new look.

In "Sailing to Byzantium," art becomes a better vessel for spiritual expression than human action.

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