Friday, November 9, 2007

sailing to byzantium

my favorite poem by yeats, along with the second coming, leda + the swan, + the circus animals' desertion. a poem about ageing + the refuge one finds in the imagination + art. in true aestheticist mode, yeats praises the artificial over the natural, portrays the power of mind + art to transcend nature + grasp the absolute.

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, + 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 + sing, + louder sing
for every tatter in its mortal dress,
nor is there singing school but studying
monuments of its own magnificence:
+ therefore i have sailed the seas + 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,
+ be the singing-masters of my soul.
consume my heart away; sick with desire
+ fastened to a dying animal
it knows not what it is; + 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 + gold enamelling
to keep a drowsy emperor awake;
or set upon a golden bough to sing
to lords + ladies of byzantium
of what is past, or passing, or to come.

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