Poems of W.B. Yeats: The Tower

W.B. Yeats's “Sailing to Byzantium:” Preserving One’s Self Through Art 12th Grade

Artists often use their work as an expression of their innermost thoughts and feelings. In his poem, “Sailing to Byzantium,” W.B. Yeats describes a metaphorical journey to Byzantium, an ancient city filled with timeless art, that the poem’s speaker embarks on in order to discover a medium of art through which he can express himself. In this poem, Yeats uses symbolism, alliteration, personification, and the motifs of music and gold to demonstrate how art transcends mortality and is the only medium through which the soul can continue to endure. This conception suggests that this poem is a medium through which the speaker’s soul can be preserved.

Yeats uses the symbolism of fish, coupled with alliteration, to highlight how humans are continually being born and then dying without leaving any monuments to commemorate their existence. In the first stanza, the speaker describes how “the salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas... commend all summer long.” Salmon and mackerel are fish that make a journey upstream to lay their eggs and then travel downstream to die. Yeats uses this notion that fish are constantly being born and then dying as a symbol for the continuous cycle of life and death. However, this cycle prevents an individual...

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