Poems of W.B. Yeats: The Tower

Byzantium: An Illusion of Salvation College

William Butler Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium (1926) is one of the more remarkable poems from The Tower, a celebrated collection of poems published in 1929. The poem is remarkable partly because of its highly suggestive and ambiguous language, which lends itself to a variety of interpretations. For example, many critics of the poem offer radically different readings of the poem’s conclusion. Carol Morgan, a contemporary critic of Yeats, claims that the poem’s form offers insight into the speaker’s fate. She asserts that a comparison of the rhyme scheme in the first and final stanzas reveals that the speaker finds salvation within Byzantium. She argues that the last stanza, unlike the first, employs a set of full triple rhymes in order to suggest order and harmony in Byzantium. According to Morgan, the first stanza’s half-rhymes emphasize the “chaotic” or “natural” state of the country and the restless anxiety of the narrator. In contrast, the use of full triple rhymes in the last stanza implies that such anxiety has been replaced by peaceful contentment (Morgan, Yeats: An Annual of Critical and Textual Studies, 141-142). This essay offers a radically different reading from Morgan’s and grounds its interpretation not only on the...

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