Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
- The second stanza begins with the speaker talking about how long he has been visiting Coole Park.
- This is the nineteenth autumn he has been there. Man, that's an odd way to keep track of time. Have you ever told someone that you were "nineteen autumns" old? It seems like this speaker is really fixated on this season, which is a time when summer's warmth gives way to the chill and decay that leads into winter.
- What's more: the speaker makes autumn seem like some supernatural force. It "comes" upon him. It's as if this season of decline has surprised him, yet he chooses to measure time this way.
- Giving human qualities (like sneaking up on someone) to an in animate, or abstract, thing is what's known in the writing biz as personification.
- "Since I first made my count" means, "since I started counting or keeping track." It is possible that the speaker has been to Coole Park more than nineteen times, but he's only been keeping track for the last nineteen years.
- Another way to read this is that it's been nineteen autumns since the first time he counted the swans, not the autumns themselves. Since he seems pretty persistent and specific about those birds, we're guessing that he means "Since I first started counting the swans."
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
- The speaker describes the flight of the swans. He was in the middle of doing… something when they "suddenly" scattered and flew away. Likely, this means that he was in the middle of counting them. Man, this speaker sure is into counting. We wonder why, but it's not made clear just yet. We also wonder how he knows that there are exactly 59 swans if they "mount" before he's finished counting. Perhaps he's just really familiar with the birds. After all, he's been counting them for nineteen years.
- "Mount" refers to the way in which the swans ascended into the sky.
- The description of the swans' flight is strange. "Wheeling" means to turn like a wheel or rotate about an axis. They are flying in some type of circular shape that appears like "broken rings."
- Try to imagine a large group of birds on your lawn suddenly all darting into the air in some circular fashion.
- "Clamorous" means "noisy." Think of a flock of birds taking off and how much noise they make when they all "scatter." Probably, there is a whole lot of honkin' going on.
- (Literary note: We also have to tell you that Yeats was really into "rings" and circular shapes at this point in his career—much of his work features cones, gyres, and other such rounded structures. For an example, check out his poem "The Second Coming".)