POEM: SAILING TO BYZANTIUM

by contemplativeinquiry

I’ve had a request for the full text of W. B. Yeats’ poem Sailing to Byzantium and so this post is devoted to it.

1

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.

II

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 any singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

III

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.

IV

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.

  • “Perne in a gyre” – ‘pern’ is another name for spool, and ‘to pern’ or ‘perne’ is to move with a circular, spinning motion; a gyre is Yeats’ symbol for circular movements in history – In A Vision Yeats said that “each age unwinds the threads another age had wound”.

Yeats, W. B. Poems of W. B. Yeats London: MacMillan & Co, 1964 (Selected with an introduction and notes by A. Norman Jeffares)

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