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  • Ana Savković

William Butler Yeats: Sailing on the Ship of Theseus

Source: Unsplash, downloaded (20.2.2021.)

Sailing to Byzantium


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.

The Tower


It is time that I wrote my will;

I choose upstanding men

That climb the streams until

The fountain leap, and at dawn

Drop their cast at the side

Of dripping stone; I declare

They shall inherit my pride,

The pride of people that were

Bound neither to Cause nor to State,

Neither to slaves that were spat on,

Nor to the tyrants that spat,

The people of Burke and of Grattan

That gave, though free to refuse –

Pride, like that of the morn,

When the headlong light is loose,

Or that of the fabulous horn,

Or that of the sudden shower

When all streams are dry,

Or that of the hour

When the swan must fix his eye

Upon a fading gleam,

Float out upon a long

Last reach of glittering stream

And there sing his last song.

And I declare my faith:

I mock Plotinus' thought

And cry in Plato's teeth,

Death and life were not

Till man made up the whole,

Made lock, stock and barrel

Out of his bitter soul,

Aye, sun and moon and star, all,

And further add to that

That, being dead, we rise,

Dream and so create

Translunar Paradise.

I have prepared my peace

With learned Italian things

And the proud stones of Greece,

Poet's imaginings

And memories of love,

Memories of the words of women,

All those things whereof

Man makes a superhuman

Mirror-resembling dream.

As at the loophole there

The daws chatter and scream,

And drop twigs layer upon layer.

When they have mounted up,

The mother bird will rest

On their hollow top,

And so warm her wild nest.

I leave both faith and pride

To young upstanding men

Climbing the mountain side,

That under bursting dawn

They may drop a fly;

Being of that metal made

Till it was broken by

This sedentary trade.

Now shall I make my soul,

Compelling it to study

In a learned school

Till the wreck of body,

Slow decay of blood,

Testy delirium

Or dull decrepitude,

Or what worse evil come –

The death of friends, or death

Of every brilliant eye

That made a catch in the breath –

Seem but the clouds of the sky

When the horizon fades;

Or a bird's sleepy cry

Among the deepening shades.

Youth And Age

Much did I rage when young,

Being by the world oppressed,

But now with flattering tongue

It speeds the parting guest.

Source: The Tower (Yeats, W. B. (1999.) The Tower, London: Penguin Books)


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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