Analyzing Poetry Yeats Vs. Lord Byron

Published 11 Oct 2017

When analyzing poems, one wonders if the age of the poet has any effect on the vision the poet chooses to portray to the writer. In Yeats’ poem Sailing to Byzantium he was sixty-one years old; when Lord Byron wrote the Switzerland portion of his poetic travelogue Child Harolds Pilgrimage. This paper will analyze the approach of either author according to the differences in their ages (not the differences in the time period in which the poems were written). Suffice it to say that the paper will give a strong compare and contrast among the words, composition and general point of view of events that the poems choose to portray to the reader.

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Yeats wrote Sailing to Byzantium as an older man, therefore the reader must wonder about his impetus for writing such a poem since the time for traveling is usually an endeavor set aside for the youthful. In accordance with this sentiment, the poem begins, “That is no country for old men” (Yeats line1). Therefore, the assumptions of the reader and the poet are on track with one another. In Lord Byron’s poem, written when he was twenty-eight years old, the reader is given a view of the world through a young poet’s eyes; there is a certain sense of strong pathos in the poem’s cantos. This is especially observed in canto III wherein the poet realizes that his youth is ebbing like the ocean and that his love goes unrequited.

The view points of either poet are certainly in opposition with one another through these two poems. Yeats’ poem is completely absorbed into the metaphors of life and death since Yeats is getting older. He speaks of decay and death and “Those dying generations” (Yeats) as though to further this point the poet makes a comparison of his aging body which encumbers a still youthful intellect and vitality of spirit. In Lord Byron’s work he mentions the agony of old age:

He, who grown aged in this world of woe,
In deeds, not years, piercing the depths of life,
So that no wonder waits him; nor below
Can love or sorrow, fame, ambition, strife,
Cut to his heart again with the keen knife
Of silent, sharp endurance: he can tell
Why thought seeks refuge in lone caves, yet rife
With airy images, and shapes which dwell
Still unimpair’d, though old, in the soul’s haunted cell. (Byron lines 37-45)

Byron is speaking about no wonder awaiting a man who has done so much; thus, Byron is pining for his youth, for the love that he lost while Yeats is grateful for the love he has known but both poets are preoccupied with how their time has been spent and of course death.

It is this image of death that prevails as an undercurrent in either poets’ work. Either poet focus on what remains after they pass in death. Yeats went to visit art work in Ireland that came from the Byzantium art period – he realizes that these images have been seen by many generations of passer-bys and that they will remain, even after he has gone. It is in facing these images that Yeats becomes closest to recognizing his own mortality. Lord Byron speaks in cannot VI of how it is his single thought that will transcend time just as Yeats’ artworks have done. Thus, the inanimate surpasses the animate; in other words it is their art that gains them immortality.

Either poet tends to agree that old age begets a lifelessness even before death as Lord Byron had stated in canto V. The listlessness of age is what infuriates Yeats since his ideas, since in his head he feels so young. Yeats desires to hang on to his intellect in order to still continue to progress in mind rather than in body – a sentiment which Lord Byron seeks to entertain with his lines which read, “‘Tis to create, and in creating live” (Bryon line 46). As poets then, these two men, despite their differences in age, seek to gain a certain peace in knowing that their art, their poems will transcend the inevitability of death and gain them a place akin to being gods, that is, immortality.

Yeats ventures on a metaphysical journey to Byzantium, wherein he discovers other artworks which have stood the test of time. In Lord Byron’s work the reader is exposed to beauty, fame and glory in the form of a legend as expressed in canto XXVI. Yeats however finds that the human intellect is limited as discussed in his final stanza by having to delve into his senses which one again call him back into his body – thus Yeats is unable to escape that thing which is dying around him. Lord Byron too finds that youth is eventually lost. On this the poets agree -youth is temperamental and it is only in art, in fame that one can become more than mortal.

Works Cited

  • Abrams, M.H. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. W.W. Norton & Co. New York. 8th Edition. 2006.
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