Poems of W.B. Yeats: The Tower

Poems of W.B. Yeats: The Tower Summary

The Tower begins with an exposition of the poet's fixation: how to escape aging. In "Sailing to Byzantium," he dreams of leaving Ireland, a young man's country, to be reincarnated as a singing mechanical bird in a Byzantine Court. In "The Tower," Yeats laments his lost love for Maude Gonne, and ruminates on how to reconcile the difference between his youthful spirit and his aging body. "Meditations in a Time of Civil War" and "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen" are the most explicitly historical poems of this collection; the former is an intensely personal account of Yeats' family history and his place in the Civil War, the second a more universal account of the chaos that gripped Ireland from 1922 to 1923.

In "The Wheel," "Youth and Age," and "The New Faces," the poet takes another tack on the issue of aging, dealing with it not viscerally but intellectually. Rather than examining his own tattered body, he compares death to the passing of the seasons. This more peaceful approach to death is an appropriate transition to "A Prayer for My Son," which expresses some hope for the new generation, which seems worth protecting.

In "Two Songs from a Play," Yeats returns to the theme that all joys are passing, all summers on their way to winter. "Fragments" mashes reason, science, and progress, depicting Locke in a faint and God creating fabric, rather than humans. "Leda and the Swan," is a very real substitute for reason: a sensory description of mythological rape. After the climactic poem of the collection, Yeats returns to a more somber tone. "On a Picture of a Black Centaur" illustrates not passionate love, but the desire to protect. "Among School Children" emphasizes the poet's new role as a senator, a possible mentor. This is undercut, however, by the poet lustfully imagining what the woman he loves looked like when she was the age of these children.

Yeats returns to Classical themes in "Colonus' Praise." He ironically praises the civilization and refinements of the place where Oedipus met his horrible end and continues with Classical allusions in "Wisdom." He addresses his leaps back and forth in time in "The Fool by the Roadside," casting the poet as the fool for attempting to make events run from "grave to cradle" instead of in their natural order. "Owen Aherne and his Dancers" addresses a different type of foolishness, namely the love of an old man for a younger girl. "A Man Young and Old" traces the speaker's life from his first love to his knowledge of "the secrets of the Old."

Yeats ends the collection with two poems that bring the reader back away from Classicism to Ireland, and to Yeats' familiar circle of theosophists. "The Three Monuments" is a satirical observation on the three monuments that stand in the middle of Dublin, the irony being that they are of men that are heroes, but could also be considered morally corrupt. "All Soul's Night," features the speaker calling upon old friends who have died to come drink the spirit of his wine. By assigning ghosts the possibility of joy, Yeats seems to have reconciled somewhat the agony of death that preoccupies him throughout this collection.