Study Guide

Sailing to Byzantium Spirituality

Advertisement - Guide continues below


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?

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)?

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).

and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity. (23-24)

The concept of eternity as an "artifice" is one that runs against most conventional religious depictions of an afterlife. Even rebirth is rarely characterized as something created, something unnatural. The type of rebirth our speaker wants, however, is not anything that you’ll find in typical descriptions of eternity.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...