Home » Blog » Sailing to Byzantium by WB Yeats summary

Sailing to Byzantium by WB Yeats summary

About the poet

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet, dramatist, writer and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and became a pillar of the Irish literary establishment who helped to found the Abbey Theatre.

Read the Poem


Byzantium was an ancient Greek city, which was later renamed as Constantinople, now situated in Istanbul. The speaker of the poem is an old man, who takes a journey to Byzantium. The speaker takes a voyage towards Byzantium, leaving his own country because his homeland is not suitable for old men to reside. It is a world where young lovers spend quality time under trees filled with birds; fishes move in the water. Whatever has born will die one day. But they are now dancing to the rhythms of sensual music, that they ignore intellectual activities, like art something which will never die.

The speaker says that an old man is of no use in this world, unless he can keep his soul young and alive inside his frail body. None else but the old person himself can teach himself to remain young. Therefore he travels to the holy city of Byzantium. Byzantium is a city of art and culture, intellect and magnificence.

The speaker has now reached Byzantium, and addresses the wise sages there, who stand in ‘God’s holy fire’. they look like the figures in the golden tiles of a wall. The poet asks them to come out of the fire, in a spiraling motion and teach his soul to sing. He asks them to burn his heart that is stuck inside his mortal old and feeble body and take him to an immortal world of art.

Then the speaker says that once, his soul has traveled into an outer world after his death, away from the earthly environment, he wouldn’t take up the form of a mortal being again. Instead, he would love to be reincarnated as a work of art created by the Greek artists using gold to decorate the room of an emperor. Or he’d want to be a golden bird in a golden tree. As the golden bird, he’ll sing songs about the past, present and future to the people of Byzantium. Art is immortal, thus the poet would love to take form of art in his next life.


The poem is composed of four stanzas with eight lines in each. It is written in Iambic pentameter with a rhyming scheme of ABABABCC. The last two lines of every stanzas end with rhyming words. The main theme of the poem revolves around attaining spirituality and intellectual fulfillment through art. Immortality is contrasted with mortal features of man.

Leave a Reply