Sailing to Byzantium,poem by William Butler Yeats, published in his collection October Blast in 1927 and considered one of his masterpieces. For Yeats, ancient Byzantium was the purest embodiment of transfiguration into the timelessness of art. Written when Yeats was in his sixties, the poem repudiates the sensual world in favour of "the artifice of eternity." It is known for its remarkable lyricism.
"Sailing to Byzantium" is written in four stanzas, each with eight lines of ten syllables, mostly iambic pentameter. Yeats contrasts images of dying and fecundity with "monuments of unaging intellect." He entreats the sages to gather his soul into immortal art, such as the precious metallic bird that sings "To lords and ladies of Byzantium/ Of what is past, or passing, or to come."
Like much of Yeats's work, the poem is laden with symbolism, including one of his favourite images, the spinning "gyre" of fate. The poem has been interpreted as a metaphor for the poet's journey to an ideal afterlife, as a comment on artistic achievement, or both. It is grounded in literal meaning as well, for in 1924 the ailing Yeats left Ireland, "no country for old men," to view Byzantine mosaics in Italy.
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