Please explain Yeats' use of myths in "Sailing to Byzantium" and "Byzantium."

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Yeats's "Byzantium" was written some years after "Sailing to Byzantium " in an attempt to clarify the earlier poem. While "Sailing to Byzantium" uses allusions (such as to the sages) to give the impression that it is set vaguely in the ancient world during the heyday of...

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Yeats's "Byzantium" was written some years after "Sailing to Byzantium" in an attempt to clarify the earlier poem. While "Sailing to Byzantium" uses allusions (such as to the sages) to give the impression that it is set vaguely in the ancient world during the heyday of the great city of Byzantium, it does not use myth directly. We could argue that there are allusions to mythological concepts—the speaker, an old man, is no longer part of the world he lives in and yet is forced to wander it, something which evokes the myth of Tiresias. In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker imagines himself being "set upon a golden bough to sing," a phrase which refers to the legend of a singing golden bird kept by one of the emperors of Byzantium.

In "Byzantium," Yeats's allusions to myth become more direct in that he refers to Hades, the god of the underworld, more than once. He describes "Hades' bobbin," making reference to the mythological concept of using a string to track one's path into the underworld, such that the string could then be followed back out. He also makes reference to dolphins. Dolphins were utilized in Greek myth to represent companionship between nature and the gods; Apollo and Aphrodite, in particular, made friends with dolphins who helped them navigate that symbol of the intractable and the unpredictable, the sea, which Yeats also refers to here.

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