The Wild Swans at Coole Characters

The Wild Swans at Coole Character List

The Narrator

The narrative voice is most probably that of a man in his old age. The 'October twilight' and the 'dry' woodpaths are symbols of the autumn of the life. Indeed, from a mythological anthropological point of view, the woods represent the journey of men during their time on Earth and as such the poet is unconsciously using the location in time and space to show his state of mind. It is the 'nineteenth autumn' since he first came to admire the swans and thus we also encounter the nostalgia and regret associated with this phase of his life. According to New Historicism, the poem might be autobiographical and thus the narrator might be W. B. Yeats himself. This fits in with the date of composition- 1919- as by that time Yeats was going through a personal crisis, mourning his lost youth.

The Swans

These 'brilliant creatures' have an aura of mystery and magic as the narrator gazes upon them. Indeed, this might be because they have everything he lacks: youth, vitality, beauty and companionship. We must note, however, that the accuracy and veracity of the account provided might come in doubt as it is possible to interpret the swans as mere symbols that reflect the spirit of the narrator. The juxtaposition between scattering 'wheeling in great broken rings' and drifting 'on the still water' mark drastic changes in energy withing a short time frame. This being said, we could conclude that they reflect the rhythm of the narrator and so they might be figments of his imagination.

Maud Gonne

Although not directly mentioned in this poem, Maud Gonne is a historical character and a prominent figure in the life of Yeats. His long time obsession with her and a few marriage proposals that were turned down prompted the poet to include Gonne in many of his poems, be it through direct mention, symbols or passing comments. In The Wild Swans at Coole, the sore heart of the narrator might be interpreted as having to do with Yeats' actual failed attempt to win over the love of his life.

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