Byzantium Poem by William Butler Yeats - Poem Hunter

Astraddle on the dolphin mire and blood


The major theme of this immorality. The poem seems to express a desire to escape from the decay and tedium of cyclical nature. He wants to transform his own consciousness and find mystical union with the golden mosaics of a medieval empire.

Byzantium by William Butler Yeats | Poetry Foundation

The ordinary gross objects of the work-a-day world go into the background. The drunken soldiers of the emperor are now asleep. The voices of the night become faint the night -walker s song comes to an end, after the sound of the gong of the great Cathedral (St. Sophia). A star studded or moonlit dome of the sky scorns all that man is and all his complexities and the passion and the dross of human life (the violence and decay and impermanence of man s life).

That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

While this poem does not display Yeats’s fully developed symbolism, it unmistakably has an occult underpinning. What seems an ordinary love poem on closer inspection is about the spiritual journey to gnosis and love as merely ancillary to achieving that end. Love is a means to that higher knowledge, and true love finds its root in the spiritual search for that knowledge.

If Yeats can reduce a human good as universal as love to a mere means of achieving occult ends, the same can only hold true for other ideals such as beauty and truth (truth being the occult knowledge itself). In this short work Yeats reveals how truly his poetic mind was given over to the occult, and how necessary and understanding of his occultism is to understanding his poetry.

Then the poet says that he says a miracle. He sees a golden bird but promptly says that is something else than a bird. It is unusual bird golden bird ‘set upon a golden bough’ which Yeats has described in his earlier poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ as well.

The literal sense is primary, whether the poet likes it or not. Symbolism is all around us, but very little of it depends on gnosis. Artists risk being well or badly received. Readers do make mistakes, but they can also come up with interpretations that the surprised poet finds acceptable, and these sometimes help delight and edify other readers.

Again, what seems a very direct poem about nostalgia is only about nostalgia to the extent that it fits into Yeats’s occult worldview. Yeats does not simply mourn the days when his outlook was sunnier and able to feel sadness at rejection. Instead, he sees it as part of a mystic gyre twirling in his life and fears its resolution as a “living death” of the subjective. If anything, “The Wild Swans at Coole” serves to underscore that in Yeats’s poetry everything—everything, including love and loss —is subjected to the ruthless strictures of his occult system.

The first stanza sets the scene at night, a necessary setting to describe the indeterminate lunar phase. Here Yeats also introduces the central image, the dome that “disdains / All that man is / All mere complexities, / The fury and the mire of human veins.” Central to the poem’s ambiguity is that its “central image, the dome, is starlit or moonlit.” (Bloom, p. 889.) In Yeats’s lunar phase symbolism, the poem can be either the new moon of Phase 6 (death before life) or the full moon of Phase 65 (the full perfection of images). (Id.)

There is also the poet 8767 s intent to consider. It is one thing to write a poem that the reader does not understand, but it is quite another to write such a poem with the expressed intent of writing in a way that is so profoundly personal and subjective that it becomes inaccessible to virtually everyone who reads it. This subjectivity is a hallmark of Modernism and is, as Adam points out, is one of the ways in which it is distinct from and irreconcilable with classical thought, art, and poetry.


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