Ans. Byzantium is the old name of Constantinople or Istambul which was the capital of the Eastern wing of the Holy Roman Empire. It was noted for its art, culture and wisdom. However, in the poem, it is no real city but a country of imagination, a Utopia, a retreat from the process of ageing and decaying. To W. B. Yeats Sailing to Byzantium symbolizes a journey from the sensual to the spiritual world or the world of art, intellect and the spirit.
The poet is growing old and he finds that the country, Ireland, powers, where he lives at present is not suited to an old man. It is a country in which all living creatures, young and in the fullness of their are given to sensual and sexual pleasures. Reproductive activity goes are on everywhere. Birds, beasts and fish all alike are indulging in sensual pleasures. In this world of sensuality nobody cares for the intellectual achievement, for the works of art and literature which a the products of the mind and the spirit, and hence immortal.
Old age is a time of physical decay and he becomes as worthless and helpless as a scarecrow. He is a contemptible figure unless he devotes himself to study and intellectual activities. The older he grows, the greater should be his devotion to art. Since Byzantium is the traditional home of art, the poet has decided to devote himself to the study of its rich treasures. Therefore the poet sails for Byzantium and as soon as he reaches there, he prays not to God, but God’s saints to come down from heaven and teach him the appreciation of art. They should purify his heart of all physical passions and desires, for he is old like a dying animal, incapable of any physical enjoyment.
The theme of Sailing to Byzantium has been presented by vivid imagery taken from the world of nature, the ancient world of art as well as the world of imagination. All the images used to picture the sensual world evoke both its power of enchantment and the pathetic transience of the life within it. The young lovers, the singing birds that must die soon, the fish swarming in the waters, all make a music in praise of fertility and natural mortality. But the only part of the life-cycle now applicable to the old man is death. The phrase “monument of unageing intellect” sums up the world which is contrasted with the sensual world represented by fish, flesh or fowl. The poem is very rich in its use of metaphor and symbols also. The two opposing sets of symbols as also the two opposing sets of intense and poignant images are allowed to interact with each other and the pattern is not only intricate but also it adds to the richness of the texture of the poem. The analogy with music is also one of the principles working at the centre of the poem. In the end, everything in the poem-image, metaphors, symbols, movement and stanza division contributes to strengthening the dilemma at the centre of the poem which is admirably realised by doing full justice to the two sets of choices available in the poem.
To sum up, Sailing to Byzantium is a wonderful poem that affects the readers’ minds greatly.
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