The speaker in William Butler Yeats’s poem “Byzantium ” refers to a golden bird that sits on a bough and can crow or scorn other, lesser birds. The stanza that describes the bird follows one in which the speaker comments on an image that may be a living...
The speaker in William Butler Yeats’s poem “Byzantium” refers to a golden bird that sits on a bough and can crow or scorn other, lesser birds. The stanza that describes the bird follows one in which the speaker comments on an image that may be a living human or a ghost, “man or shade.” The speaker also refers to the inextricable connections between life and death.
The description that follows the bird links it to this “life-in-death” paradox. The word “miracle” that opens the stanza may describe that complex state or refer to the bird itself. The golden color associated with the bird connects it to the skills of the goldsmith, as the speaker mentions the “golden handiwork” that has created both the bird and the “golden bough” on which it perches. The miraculous aspect is connected as well with the bird’s vocal abilities, which rival the crows of Hades and are far superior to the singing of everyday, living birds.
The idea that artificial creations can be superior to natural ones is enforced by the speaker’s references to “complexities of mire or blood” and, in the next stanza, to “blood-begotten spirits.” However, the speaker also challenges that superiority as they associate human ingenuity with the disasters that people are also capable of unleashing. The marvelous city that the poet has been contemplating is threatened by fire, which may indicate its destruction in a war.
The transcendence of the spirit to get beyond such devastation is connected to the bird by the mention of the emperor’s “golden smithies,” as new visions and creations will arise: “Images that yet/ Fresh images beget.” The idea arising from fire to start over suggests that the bird is identified with the mythical phoenix.