Sailing to Byzantium Questions and Answers
by William Butler Yeats

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What is the thesis of the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats?  

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Jonathan Beutlich, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I believe that this question might be asking about a central theme to the poem rather than a thesis; however, I will try to answer based on the poem having a supposed thesis. A thesis is an argumentative statement, and it is possible to consider that the poem's opening sentence is its thesis statement.

That is no country for old men.

Readers do not know what country the speaker is referring to; however, we do know that the speaker's argument is that it is not an ideal place for anybody who happens to be getting old. The narrator then provides some supporting evidence for the thesis. The country that he is speaking about is a place for the young and in love. People in this country live in the moment and do not think about things that might last for a very long time; therefore, the speaker tells readers what his solution to his age and country problem was. He sailed to Byzantium.

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats is a poem, not an argumentative essay. Although argumentative essays by their nature have theses, most poems do not have arguments per se nor do they exist primarily to advance a single thesis. Instead, poems tend to have themes, clusters of associated images, emotions, and ideas that are central to the reader's experience.

The main themes of the poem are the relationships of the soul to the body and youth to age. The narrator begins by suggesting that much of the world is more fit for the young than the old; the young are caught up in romance and the life of the senses and pay little attention to the profound wisdom that Yeats associates with both age and agelessness.

The poem concludes by suggesting that while age involves physical decline, this should not be an excuse for a concomitant mental decline, but instead the soul can continue in the path of wisdom and creation, and participate in eternal beauty. The goal of humanity is to become an immortal creative spirit, casting off imperfect mortal flesh. 

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