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The Wild Swans at Coole

------ W.B.YEATS

The ideas of William’s Yeats “The Wild Swans at Coole” are seen almost from its very first
line. The author realizes how old he is and recalls what he has once seen nineteen years
ago. The image of autumn in used as an opposition to the beauty and the ever-young
hearts of the swans the heart of young people. The swans represent the beauty of life and
are the metaphor of the lost youth of the poet.

The poem contains philosophical issues, for the author speaks about life in his poem and
about the fact that everything will happen again, even thought without our presence. The
theme of the infinity of the beauty, freedom and the impossibility to stop the time may be
obviously seen, too. The swans are “wild”, just like the author used to be.

The poem has the structure of five stanzas, each consisting out of six lines. The rhyme
scheme of each of the stanza is the same and is a-b-c-b-d-d and the meter is iambic. The
rhythm is not regular and is a method used to draw an analogy with a crying voice. The
poem according to this type of construction has a lot of traits of a lyrical song or even a
ballad, which also implies that the reader perceives it like a singing soul’s confession. This
type of stanza perfectly fits the mood of the poem and makes it heartfelt. The last two d-d
lines are the most melodic part of each stanza and contain the most voluptuous lines of
the poem. Especially the last ones: “Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day. To find
they have flown away?” which reflect the fear of the person to lose the last remainder of
his youth.

The poem expresses very personal feelings of a man that has realized his maturity and
dreams about staying young in his heart. This is especially resembled in the analogy with
the swan: “Their hearts have not grown old”. The opening stanza owing to its balladic
construction shows the “sadness” and the nostalgic mood of the author:

[“THE TREES are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.”]

The first two lines use autumn with all its manifestations as a metaphor of the sundown of
the author’s young age. Four syllables in the first line and the three in the second one
make the accent of the second line even harder. The “dry woodland paths” from the
second line mean that a lot of paths in the author’s life have already been forgotten. The
third line’s “October twilight” is a metaphor used to express the end of not simply the year
but the life of the author. ”…the water/Mirrors a still sky;”- is assonant with the “fading”
mood of the first stanza. As the sky and the water are still, everything in the life of the
poet is still and deprived from any dynamic events. The language of the next stanza is
rather figurative, as it is very hard to understand the literal meaning of the water
reflecting the sky. Here, the sky is the world around and the water is the soul of the author
that is calm and still. And as the acknowledgement of this passivity of life the last two
lines are calm and without any particular stresses/ converting the iambic meter sound
more like a musical composition. The “nine and fifty swans” represent high spiritual goals
once he has achieved the culmination of his self-perfection and youth. “The nineteenth
Autumn has come upon me” is the indicator of the fact that the poet did not even notice
how the time flew by. The opening line of the second stanza: “Since I first made my
count;” implies that the moment that has happened nineteen years ago became very
important to the author. The word order in these two lines reflects the correct attitude of
the author to the situation. “All suddenly mount/And scatter wheeling in great broken
rings/Upon their clamorous wings”, - the author compares the flight and the game of the
swans that “suddenly mount” to the days when he was young, strong and in love. The
“broken wings” the swans “wheel” in the sky may be interpreted as the thing that the
author had not finished in his life a broken relationship.

[“I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,

And now my heart is sore”
I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.”]

The swans are “brilliant creatures” for the mind of the author, and so the author’s “heart
is sore”. The definition of being sore perfectly fits the context of the line, because the
heart of the author is not “strong“ any more. The flight of the swans– identifies the
happiness of the youth of the poet and without this happiness “All’s changed since”. It is
much harder for the author to “Trod with a lighter tread” now, when his old age is all upon
him. He is not young anymore; he does not hear the “bell-beat of their wings” above his
head or in other words he does not feel the optimism that is so typical for young people.
The poem reflects the tragedy of being alone and not like the “unwearied still, lover by
lover” swans. The author feels that he cannot ”climb the air” anymore, he cant overcome
the hardships of the destiny but only “paddle in the cold water”, following the stream of
the fade events of the old age. All the “passion and conquest” of the author’s youth has
left him, and will be a forever companion of the days when he was young, loving and
brave. The author feels sorry for those days and the understanding that there is no other
possibility to revive them other than by watching the swans fly and love – oppresses him.

[“But now they drift on the still water

Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?”]

The last stanza has the same construction as the rest. It reflects the repetitions of the
events, which took place nineteen years ago. The past seems so “mysterious, beautiful”
for the author. He realizes that youth is the slave of other people now:”Among what
rushes will they build,/By what lake’s edge or pool/Delight men’s eyes” – people he does
not know and people who are happy being young. The last two lines with the metaphor of
awakening draw an analogy with the death of the author. He will be able to see the swans
until he will recall, and not seeing them for the author it is similar to dying. “…when I
awake some day/To find they have flown away” – such an awakening in the poem is
figural and is compared to the realization that he is too old and it is time to die.

W. B. Yeats, Stephen Parrish (editor) “The Wild Swans at Coole: Manuscript Materials”
(Cornell Yeats)/ Cornell University Press /1994.

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