Sailing to Byzantium
Sailing to Byzantium is the first poem in the collection The Tower (1928). Byzantium , later known as Constantinople and today as Istanbul, was the main city of the Roman Empire of the East. It was also the holy city of eastern Christendom as well as its administrative and cultural center. In its architectural magnificence and in its luxury it surpassed even Rome. During the early Renaissance , however, the pictures that decorated its churches and palaces fell into discredit because they represented personages in static postures, their bodies concealed under ample robes according to a
complex theological tradition which repudiated the body in favor of the soul. Yeats's interest in Byzantium began when he was no longer very young. Dissatisfied with the Irish cultural world in which he was living , the ageing poet ended by considering Byzatium as the embodiment of his dreams and the symbol of art and immorality.
Sailing to Byzantium is divided into four eight-line stanzas in iambic pentameters roughly rhyming ababbc. Its main themes are already present in earlier poems: growing old , the passing of time, man's immorality, art and reality. The contrast between youth and old age is here also reflected in the contrast between different types of societies, modern but wordly Ireland, metaphorically representing man's sensual body, as opposed to ancient Byzantium, the centre of culture and art, representing man's soul. In his attempt to escape his trivial world, which does not offer opportunity to aged poets, Yeats, therefore, looks for eternity in the only place where the artist can become immortal by identifying himself with his own artifact. This theme develops through the four stanzas , each focusing on a precise moment.