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Sailing to Byzantium

Sailing to Byzantium


by William Butler Yeats

Sailing to Byzantium Theme of Transformation

Life gives way to death. Youth turns into age. Change, it seems, is always in the air. Frustrated by the cruelty of natural cycles, the speaker of "Sailing to Byzantium" tries to initiate a new dynamic by leaving his homeland in search of spiritual rebirth. For once, he’s going to control the transformations that shape his life – and sailing to Byzantium is only the first step of many. The possibility of spiritual cleansing leads into the imagined possibility of physical rebirth, as well. Though he will die just like all humans, the speaker imagines a time when he can live again in art.

Questions About Transformation

  1. Is the speaker of this poem actively seeking his own type of transformation? If so, why does he ask the sages to do all the work of consuming his heart? Does this matter?
  2. What role does gold play in the speaker’s imagined rebirth?
  3. Does the speaker actually want to be reborn as an art object, or is this a metaphorical rebirth? What brings you to this conclusion?
  4. Why is the sort of transformation which occurs in the natural world such a bad thing?

Chew on This

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

Imagining himself as an object of art is just a way for the speaker to escape facing real life.

The speaker of "Sailing to Byzantium" is just doing what every other artist or creator does: he expresses his soul though artwork.

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