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 nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water,
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?
Starting with the Poem
The Wild Swans at Coole, published in 1917, is primarily based on the scenic beauty of Coole Park, an estate about 130km from Dublin that belonged to the poetâs close friend, Lady Gregory and where Yeats was a regular visitor every year.
Background of the Poem
The poem marks an important phase in Yeatsâ life; his futile relationship with Iseut Gonne had received a rejection, his treasured Ireland was going through rebellion and the World War 1 with its brutalities had just ended. Moreover, Yeats was 51 years old, an autumnal juncture that supports his feelings of dejection and hopelessness, much reflected in the poem.
A Short Summary
The poet begins with the setting of the poem; it is an autumnal twilight in October, the trees are covered with multicolored leaves (the trees in their autumn beauty), the weather is dry and the lake resembling a âmirrorâ reflects âa still sky.â Revisiting the park after 19 years, the poet revives a familiar sight; he spots 59 swans in the lake that âmountâ even before he had âwell finishedâ counting. However, though the birds fly about âin great broken rings,â the poet himself feels âsoreâ at heart. The crippling sensation that âAllâs changed,â (chiefly with regard to his fading self due to approaching age), makes him recall his first visit, when he had walked with a âlighter tread.â He concludes that the swans embody an ever youthful heart (their hearts have not grown old), and it must be either âpassionâ or âconquestâ that motivates them. As the swans âdrift on the still water,â he is left musing that this enjoyment too is transient, for one day they would fly away and âdelight other men.â
Analyzing the Poem
|Structure||Five stanzas; mixture of iambic pentameter, iambic trimeter, and iambic tetrameter|
Manâs limitations VS. Natureâs Permanence: The vitality of the swans directly contrasts Yeatsâ dispiritedness. The swans (embodying Nature) relish permanent bliss in comparison to the poet who is bowed down by age and experience. The everlastingness of the scene is further intensified by phrases such as âstill sky,â and âstill water.â
An Inescapable Gloom: Throughout the poem, the poetâs looming despondency, nostalgia for a segment of his life he had 19 years ago, is ascertainable. Finally, the fact is typified by the line, âAnd now my heart is sore.â
Death: Two vital aspects of the setting, autumn, and twilight, subtly hint at the impending cessation â death. Autumn is universally the season before barren winter and twilight is the period before total darkness; thus both are effectively employed by the poet as fitting precursors of an inevitable termination. Further instances that evoke the sense of death are, Yeatsâ premonition of the swans flying off in the last stanza, or the realization that âtheir hearts have not grown oldâ unlike his own.
Meaning of the Title
The title makes it clear that Yeatsâ subject concerns undomesticated (wild) swans that live on a lake at Coole Park.
Yeats uses ample adjectives like, âwild swans,â âstill sky,â âdryâ âwoodland path.â Enjambment is also used by him, for instance in the second stanza, the lines,
âAll suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings,â
the idea of the birdâs flight is not complete at the end of the line, âAll suddenly mount,â but goes on to the next two lines.
The Literary Devices Used
- The swans stand for imperishable youth
- The âbell beatâ of the swans symbolizes a relentless passing of time
- The phrase, âautumnal twilight,â symbolizes an imminent end
- âCompanionable streamsâ suggest the intimate passion the swans have
- The number, 59 symbolizes something odd (since swan pairs mate for their entire lives, the last swan is lonesome as the poet).
Image and Imagery
The entire first stanza with the âdryâ âwoodlandâ âpaths,â the âstill sky, âOctober twilight,â establishes a picture of serenity and loneliness and builds up the idea that Nature is on the threshold of death. Contrastingly, the second stanza describing the sudden âmountâ of the swans creates a powerful image of their unending energy and vigor.
Prominent Figures Of Speech Used
Metaphor: Line 4, âthe water/Mirrors a still sky,â in which the lake is said to be like the âstill sky.â
Alliteration: Lines 17-18, the âbell beatâ of the swans.
Personification: Line 22, âTheir hearts have not grown old,â that declare the swans as having âhearts,â a human quality.
Repetition: The words, âdryâ and âstillâ are repeated a number of times.
Onomatopoeia: The expression, ”The bell-beat of their wings above my head” tends to arouse the sound of the wings of the swans as they fly off.