Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sailing to Byzantium

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:


That is no country for old men. The young 
In one another's arms, birds in the trees, 
—Those dying generations—at their song, 
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, 
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long 
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. 
Caught in that sensual music all neglect 
Monuments of unageing intellect. 


An aged man is but a paltry thing, 
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless 
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing 
For every tatter in its mortal dress, 
Nor is there singing school but studying 
Monuments of its own magnificence; 
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come 
To the holy city of Byzantium. 


O sages standing in God's holy fire 
As in the gold mosaic of a wall, 
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, 
And be the singing-masters of my soul. 
Consume my heart away; sick with desire 
And fastened to a dying animal 
It knows not what it is; and gather me 
Into the artifice of eternity. 


Once out of nature I shall never take 
My bodily form from any natural thing, 
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make 
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling 
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; 
Or set upon a golden bough to sing 
To lords and ladies of Byzantium 
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

W. B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium” from The Poems of W. B. Yeats: A New Edition, edited by Richard J. Finneran. Copyright 1933 by Macmillan Publishing Company, renewed © 1961 by Georgie Yeats. Reprinted with the permission of A. P. Watt, Ltd. on behalf of Michael Yeats.
Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)


Personal Postscript: I like this poem, but will say nothing about it. I leave the exposition and responses to you. However, I must apologize. All past announcements about reading plans have been cancelled. Because of recent events, I will instead be going in different directions. Where am I going? Why there? Future postings will make things clear.


  1. Whichever direction you're choosing, Tim, I'll be interested in what you find there.

  2. i also like Yeats poetry, at least some of it, but i like it in the way i admire the Grand Canyon: it's amazing and huge, but it's quite a bit out of my reality; fun to meditate on, but beyond me to understand...
    i feel like when i was a kid and we were going on a trip... time to collect all my little important stuff and pack it into my handbag; whatever happens i know it will be remarkable... i guess the internet can double for a '53 DeSoto...

    1. Mudpuddle, sometimes the DeSoto turns to be a Nash Metropliton; of course, it is also sometimes a Yugoslav, but I'm speaking only for and of myself.

    2. Make that a Yugo. Damned autocorrect!

    3. i always wanted a Yugo, but that was back when i liked working on cars... Nash M's were great little cars... there's a fellow around here somewhere who takes his out occasionally...

  3. Many years ago, I worked on a government contract where one of the government techies had an M.A. in English, and had written his thesis on Yeats. At one point when we were discussing the unpromising future of a minicomputer line we both knew well, he said, "George, I think we're fastened to a dying animal." I had to admire the appositeness of the quotation. He was correct, too: the company that made those minicomputers is no more, and may not have survived the conversation by five years.

    1. George, there's a moral in your story, I think, about the employability of someone with an MA in English. Hmmmmm.

    2. Tim, I never read or asked to read his thesis, but can testify that he knew a fair bit about computers. Quite a number of persons schooled in the liberal arts are employed in computing. E.W. Dijkstra (q.v.) wrote that the two qualities needed to become a good programmer were mathematical maturity and the ability to express oneself clearly in one's native language.

  4. I've always liked Yeats' poetry. Your poem makes me think I need to pull out my collection and enjoy them again.

    1. Sharon, I admit that I know too little about Yeats but would like to know more.