William Butler Yeats

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Compare and contrast Yeats' "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "Wild Swans of Coole."

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"Leda and the Swan" depicts an ancient Greek myth in which Zeus, appearing as a swan, rapes the wife of King Tyndareus. In "The Wild Swans at Coole" on the other hand, the speaker is reflecting that as he gets older his youthful pleasure in watching wild swans at Coole will be replaced by others' appreciation of them. They will leave him to give nature's comfort to others instead of him.

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"The Wild Swans of Coole" and "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" both celebrate the beauty and peace of nature. Both are simple poems that use imagery—what we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell—to show what the speaker finds compelling in a natural location. In "Wild Swans," it is the beauty of the swans that draws the narrator, for instance, as they take flight, when they:

scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
In "Lake Isle" he uses images of how he imagines living in peace and solitude in a natural place far from others:
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
Both poems are exact about numbers. The nine rows of beans in "Lake Isle" and the fifty-nine swans in "Wild Swan" give both poems a sense of verisimilitude and solidity.
However, "Lake Isle" is about stasis: all that changes on the isle is the time of day. In it, the narrator, standing on a city pavement, dreams of a safe, unchanging place of retreat. In "Wild Swans," however, the poet is acutely concerned with time's passage. He laments how he has changed in the nineteen years since he began keeping track of the swans, and worries about a future when they will have left. "Lake Isle" envisions an escape from rush and fast-paced time; "Wild Swans" expresses fear about the changes and losses time bring.
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These two poems by William Butler Yeats are perfect examples of his early tributes to his native country, Ireland, in which he reminisces about his childhood memories and subtly laments the loss of innocence those memories represent, in light of Ireland’s later political and religious troubles.  The wild swans speak of tradition, of rhythms and harmonies and predictability – “wander where they will” – and the love their lifelong pairing represents.  “Innisfree”, on the other hand, addresses Yeats’ wish to return to those innocent days that he hears “in the deep heart’s core.”  It is much more descriptive of the landscape, with textural details such as “evening full of linnet’s wings” and lake water lapping.”  The poems taken together serve as brackets to his thinking – one a remembrance of tranquility, and the other a wish for its return.  Also, the “swans” are purely natural, while “Innisfree” speaks of man-made (“a small cabin”) artifacts.

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Compare and contrast the style of William Butler Yeats in his poems  "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "The Wild Swans at Coole."

Both of Yeats's poems use nature as the vehicle for expressing sentiment, and each poem has its own message.

In "The Lake at Innisfree" the speaker projects himself, in great detail, to a bucolic setting where he imagines building a cabin, keeping bees, growing beans, and enjoying his solitude in nature. These imaginings sustain the speaker when he is on the roads and pavements of a more urban place.

The poem's structure is comprised of three quatrains (four-line stanzas) with an alternating rhyme scheme; the end rhymes are ABAB/CDCD/EFEF. The speaker uses the first-person followed by future tense verbs or verb phrase to describe the future ("I will" and "I shall") contrasted with the present tense verbs that describe his current state: "I stand" and "I hear."

"The Wild Swans at Coole" evokes different, more melancholy emotions than "The Lake at Innisfree." The speaker reflects on loss and the toll time takes on a person's psyche as he contemplates the lives of the swans he has observed over a number of years.

The poem is structured with five six-line stanzas, and the rhyme scheme is roughly ABCBDD, though there are alterations and near rhymes that create a dissonance that reinforces the unsettling observations in the poem.

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Compare and contrast the style of William Butler Yeats in his poems  "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "The Wild Swans at Coole."

In order to compare and contrast William Butler Yeats' "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" (to be known as LII) and "The Wild Swans at Coole" (to be known as WSC) rhyme, meter, poetic devices, and meaning will be examined.

Rhyme and Form

LII: This poem is written using alternating rhyme. The rhyme of the poem is abab / cdcd / efef. The poem is written using three stanzas of four lines each (quatrain).

WSC: This poem contains the abcbdd rhyme scheme. The poem is written using five stanzas, each containing six lines (sexain). 


LII: The poem follows no meter. Some lines contain thirteen syllables; others contain nine.

WSC: This poem's meter is iambic (meaning its iambic foot is unstressed / stressed). Some lines contain four metrical feet (tetrameter); other lines contain three feet (trimeter). Therefore, although loosely followed, the poem contains both iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.

Poetic Devices

LII: Alliteration and assonance appear in the poem. Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound; assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound. Alliteration is found in line three where the "h" sound repeats in "have," "hive," and "honey." Assonance is found in line nine where the "i" sound repeats in "I," "will," and "arise."

WSC: This poem uses alliteration as well. Alliteration is found in line three where the "t" sound is repeated in "October," "twilight," and "water." It also contains a homograph (word with multiple meaning). The poem uses the word "still" in multiple ways.


LII: This poems illustrates the healing power of nature, the importance of imagination (promise of more), and remembrance of better times.

WSC: This poem illustrates the power of nature and imagination. Here though, the speaker wishes to be like nature (wild, unbridled, and free).

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Compare and contrast Yeats's "Leda and the Swan" and "The Wild Swans at Coole."

Apart from their both dealing with swans, in my view these two poems on first reading have little in common. "Leda and the Swan" is a sonnet based on the incident in Greek mythology in which Zeus takes the form of a swan and seduces (as some accounts put it) or rapes a woman, Leda, who is the wife of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta. "The Wild Swans at Coole" is the reflection of a young person about his own life and his process of maturing, of essentially losing his innocence, while the "nine and fifty" swans he observes at Coole are a constant, unchanging element of nature, never aging. The speaker then speculates that some day, the swans may in fact leave the lake and go elsewhere "to delight men's eyes."

If there is connection of thought or theme between the two poems, apart from the presence of that particular bird in each, I would suggest that it lies in the preternatural quality Yeats attributes to the swan in both. In "Leda and the Swan," the bird is a god in disguise and therefore immortal, mysterious, and all-powerful. It almost carelessly forces itself upon the hapless mortal Leda, and at the end its "indifferent beak" lets her "drop." Yeats alludes to the Trojan War and its aftermath, given that Leda is to become the mother of both Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra (wife of Agamemnon). Thus the rape of Leda is viewed in the context of a collective human tragedy that will result at least in part from this initial act of violent cruelty.

In the other poem, the unchanging and seemingly omnipotent swans are similarly contrasted with the speaker and his own sadness: his "heart is now sore" as he thinks of these brilliant creatures, indifferent to him and the comfort he used to gain from them (which is gone now that he's older). He asks "among what rushes" they will "delight [other] men's eyes" when they have abandoned him, having flown away to give the comfort he has enjoyed to others.

"The Wild Swans at Coole" is the more "conventional" of these two poems, with its oft-repeated trope of a poet addressing and bonding, in some way, with a bird figure that represents or reflects elements of the speaker's mind, his joy and suffering. In "Leda," the swan is a remote figure attacking a human being and a seeming cause of generalized suffering as well. But in both cases, the bird is intimately connected with human experience, for good or ill, mystical and somehow delineating the ups and downs of men and women in its mutely disinterested way.

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