The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Wild Swans at Coole” consists of five six-line stanzas rhymed abcbdd. The meter is iambic, but loosened to accommodate the irregular cadences of speech. Odd-numbered lines have four stressed syllables, even-numbered lines three. The stanza, then, is a modified ballad stanza plus a rhymed couplet. Although William Butler Yeats uses six-line stanzas in many other poems, nowhere else does he employ exactly this stanza, which is stately but not stiff, well-suited to the poem’s reflective tone and melancholy mood.

It is a lyric poem both because of its musicality (in the oldest sense of “lyric”) and because it is a direct expression of personal feelings, which may be identified as the author’s. It is a dramatic lyric in that the poem’s physical setting, particularly in the opening stanza, serves as an objective correlative to these feelings—representing, reflecting, “dramatizing” them.

“Coole” in the title refers to Coole Park, the estate in Ireland’s County Galway of Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats’s friend, collaborator, and benefacter. Yeats spent a considerable part of each year there for many years, beginning in 1897; he often walked paths through the woods on the estate and to Coole Lake, with its swans.

On its first appearance, the poem was dated October, 1916, a time when Yeats’s spirits were at a low ebb. Still unmarried and childless at age fifty-one, he felt that life was passing him...

(The entire section is 405 words.)