Tuesday, 4 December 2012

6. f) Unseen Poetry - Homework - Layers of Meaning

The Wild Swans At Coole* by W.B. Yeats

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,
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?

* This poem is set in CoolePark where W.B. Yeats spent his summers for 20 years [from the age of 32] as the guest of his patron, Lady Augusta
Often a poem is superficially about one thing, but at a deeper level about another. Read this description of the swans and look beyond it to what it tells us of the speaker’s feelings. [Autobiographical information on Yeats suggests he’s expressing his own feelings on this occasion]

  1. Select the words and phrases that, as well as describing the scene, suggest that Yeats is middle-aged at the time of writing and explain each one and why the poet has chosen to use it.
  2. In stanza four there is an implied comparison between the swans’ and Yeats’ situation. Say in what ways he feels the swans are better off.


  1. The nineteenth autumn has come upon me is a measure of the years of his count, but also implies that he is in the Autumn of his life. He has probably chosen to use this because it fits innocently into his poem, but can also be seen as a measure of time- Autumn is near the end of the year, and he may feel he is near to the end of his life.

  2. In stanza four Yeats implies that the swans, even in older age, still can love each other and have the capacity for "passion and conquest". As a middle aged man in this poem, Yates probably feels that these abilities and actions in life are now past him, and that he has missed his chance at love and compassion.

  3. In the poem "The Wild Swans at Coole", Yeats employs structural devices to convey his personal feelings about the swans;" The trees are in their autumn beauty,The woodland paths are dry".The organisation of the lines into verses by Yeats through through juxtaposing the words "beauty" and "dry" connotes a paradox to Yeats structure; he is clearly trying to describe the swans and their setting however in both positive and negative tones.Further connotations of "autumn" and "beauty" could imply a happy memory of Yeats time at Coole as beauty has happy connotations.Yeats has incoprated a varying rhyming scheme to corrlate his descriptions of the swans to his personal feelings; "They paddle in the cold, Their hearts have not grown old".By using the same amount of sylaballes in each line (6), Yeats is depicting the swans as sobre yet loving; "cold" has negative connotations, but "hearts" has positive connotations.These two words act as oxymorons, and imply that Yeats ryhme scheme has been used predominantly in order to portray not only his description of the swans, but his emotions as well, good and bad.

    1. He uses lots of opposing images as you have noted Michael. What do you think this tells us about his frame of mind at this time of his life?

  4. the word "twilight" is sort of "magical" so it makes the place seem more interesting. He says " mirrors a still sky|" which implies that it is peaceful and quiet.
    "The nineteenth autumn is upon me " - it shows he is middle aged because he has experienced 19 of this season. As it is "upon" him, we could maybe interpret that time goes quite quickly(?)because its "upon me" so it's there again and its like autumn has come to him- time is moving fast I don't know.
    Don't really get question 2."
    I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,and now my heart is sore."- could imply that he knows there time is coming or his time is coming or that something will happen and he will miss them.
    This bit :" when I awake some day to find they have flown away?" - it sort of prompts to us that the swans are going to leave and that when they do he will be sad. The question at the end is sort of unanswerable - he is questioning within himself what will happen when they go. like what will he do ? it shows the swans make him happy and maybe he will be lost without them.

    1. Great ideas Hannah. Could you expand.on your language analysis of the word "twilight"?

    2. Why is it magical? Also, can you rephrase "tis bit" to make it more formal?

  5. 'THE trees are in their autumn beauty' signify's Yeats' life as if it were coming to an end. We can tell this because 'Autumn' is when plants leaves and trees become old and begin to die. Maybe this is how Yeats feels about his life and compares his life to the environment of Coole Park. In contrast to this the word 'beauty' is usually associated with things that are young and pure, meaning that obviously at one point in Yeats' life he was young and now he feels like his life is near the end.
    Also the line Under 'the October twilight the water, Mirrors a still sky'is effective. This is because 'Mirror' connotes that Yeats is overlooking his life through this poem, and as this is a medium length poem it signify's that he is midway through his life.(?)

    2. I think that in stanza 4 it is comparing the love between the two swans to Yeats, as it uses juxtaposition with 'lover by lover' and also the word ' companionable'. I think he longs to have a life like the swans, where he has a companion. From this poem we can tell that Yeats feels quite lonely. The line saying 'their hearts have not turned old' symbolizes how Yeats feels; he feels like he is too old to love or to be loved anymore.

    1. Would you say he uses an extended metaphor here Martine?

  6. 1.'The nineteenth autumn' suggests that he is a middle aged man as he remembers all the autumns he has been there whereas if he was younger he may not remember them so well and he would not remember them in so much detail.
    2. In stanza four it is suggested that Yeats feels that as he has approached older age he has lost love whereas with the swans although they reach an older age they still have the same love for one another, 'Their hearts have not grown old' this suggests that as the swans are still as fond of each other as the day they first met. However as Yeats has grown old so has his feeling so they are all 'old' feelings.

    1. Can you extend on your analysis of why he has chosen to compare his age to autumn? Why this metaphor?

  7. 'All's changed since I, hearing at twilight' Suggests how Yeats has probably spent a lot of time there as he says a lot has changed. You could guess that he was a middle aged man as he must have been there multiple times. 'The nineteenth autumn has come upon me' Could also suggest how long he had spent there and that he has obviously aged over the amount of times he has been there and he must be a middle aged man. ' I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, And now my heart is sore' Where he says his heart is sore it suggests how his heart aches when he knows he should let them go as they are better off alone. He doesn't want to let them go but he feels thats best for them as he has been with them for a very long time.

    1. Some great emotional understanding shown Beth. Can you delve further into the language he has selected?

  8. 1.The poem - The Wild Swans at Coole, suggest that the writer, Yates is middle aged when he wrote the poem. This can be identified as he talks about seeing the swans at different ages. When he talks about first seeing the birds they 'trod with a lighter tread' and now his 'nineteenth autumn', which suggests it is 19 years later. These words have been chosen as it gives a layered meaning,it could suggest that there is an increase in the amount of swans in the 19 years, but as he says in the final line, he is worried that some day he will find that they flew away.
    2. In the 4th stanza, Yates believe that the swans are better off, as where he grows old, the swans don't and they still have the 'passion and conquest' he feels is leaving him, as well as his youth.

    1. What do you think the swans represent to Yeats?

  9. Well done on this homework guys. This is actually an A-Level poem so great for you to jump right in and analyse like you have.


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