What do I need to do to write an essay in response to the assignment below? "SAILING TO BYZANTIUM" BY W.B YEATS.  Like "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," this poem focuses on an imaginary journey and...

What do I need to do to write an essay in response to the assignment below?

"SAILING TO BYZANTIUM" BY W.B YEATS.  Like "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," this poem focuses on an imaginary journey and on a contrast between then and there versus here and now, yet this poem deals much more directly with the subject of art and especially of poetry or song: what it might be like, where it might come from, what it might do for us. How does this poem both pose and answer those questions?

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thanatassa's profile pic

thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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This prompt asks for a response that is a close reading of the poem. Specifically, the reading should be analytic rather than a mere stanza by stanza summary. Thus you should organize your response thematically rather than sequentially. It also appears that this is for a literature class in which you are reading more than one work by Yeats, and thus you should make comparative references to other poems in which Yeats explicitly discusses the nature of poetry -- "Lapis Lazuli", "Among School Children", "When You Are Old ...``

First, you might contrast the goals of the journey. Both Innisfree and Byzantium are real places, but one is Irish, one in modern Turkey, one is rural the other urban, etc. How would these differ as environments for artistic creation?

Why must the poet make the journey? What is the poet leaving or escaping? Why is the situation the poet is escaping from inimical to artistic creation?

What are the imagined differences between the audiences of the two poems?

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teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Yeats wrote "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" in 1890 and "Sailing to Byzantium" in 1928. The dates are significant: the first poem represents a young man's desire to escape from the pressures of busy modern life while the second poem reflects the longing of an old man not to die. 

As Keats does in "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Yeats asks why the human body (or that of any natural creature) must grow old, decay, and die, and like Keats, he turns to art as a contrast: why cannot we, like works of art, remain eternal and ageless?

As Yeats's speaker metaphorically sails for Byzantium in the first stanza, he launches his theme immediately. The land the speaker ventures toward is "no country for old men." Instead, it is a place where one can focus on neglected "monuments of unageing [sic] intellect," in other words, art.

How do we combat aging and fight becoming "a tattered coat upon a stick," which is Yeats's image of what an old man looks like? One way is through song or poetry.

How else can a "dying animal" (i.e., an aging person) be gathered into "eternity"? Yeats's speaker says that if he could, he would become a work of art. He says in particular he would like to become an object "of hammered gold and gold enamelling / To keep a drowsy Emperor awake." He would also like to be a mechanical bird "set upon a golden bough to sing." Aging and death are the problem. The poet turns to ageless art as the answer. To write about this, you need to find quotes from the poem that show or suggest the poet grieving about aging and death and then quotes that show his solution in art.