Tag Archives: creation

“The Rose of the World” by William Butler Yeats

Rose

Who dreamed that beauty passes like a dream?
For these red lips with all their mournful pride,
Mournful that no new wonder may betide,
Troy passed away in one high funeral gleam,
And Usna’s children died.

We and the laboring world are passing by:—
Amid men’s souls that day by day gives place,
More fleeting than the sea’s foam-fickle face,
Under the passing stars, foam of the sky,
Lives on this lonely face.

Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode:
Before you were, or any hearts to beat,
Weary and kind one stood beside His seat;
He made the world, to be a grassy road
Before her wandering feet.

According to the literary analysis I read, this poem was written by Yeats to Maud Gonne, with whom he was in love. He expresses that she is the embodiment of beauty that is eternal and does not pass and fade “like a dream.” He compares her beauty with Helen of Troy’s, as well as with Usna from ancient Irish mythology. While I do not question that Gonne was the inspiration for this poem, I think that Yeats is also expressing something else here.

The first two stanzas address the temporality and impermanence of our lives, contrasted with the eternal, spiritual quality of Beauty, symbolized by the rose. For me, the key to understanding the hidden meaning in this poem lies in the third stanza, where Yeats asserts that Beauty is archetypal and existed before the existence of the archangels.

Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode:
Before you were, or any hearts to beat,

As the stanza continues, we are presented with the image of God just prior to his creation of the world. Beside him is an unnamed feminine presence. This would be the goddess aspect of the dyad, or the feminine half of the godhead. Yeats is claiming that Beauty is a characteristic of the goddess and existed before creation. Since Maud Gonne possesses Beauty in Yeats’ eyes, he can only assume that the goddess is manifest within her.

Yeats was very interested in mythology and the occult. Whenever I read a poem by Yeats, I always approach it from the perspective that he has hidden occult symbolism somewhere in the verse. In this poem, I believe that the rose is the symbol for the goddess, whose eternal beauty is expressed in human form through Maud Gonne.

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“The Human Abstract” by William Blake

HumanAbstract

 Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor:
And Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we;

And mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears:
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Catterpillar and Fly,
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat;
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The Gods of the earth and sea
Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain

This is definitely one of the more mystical poems in the Songs of Experience. In Blake’s illustration for this poem, we see Urizen, the supreme god in Blake’s mythological pantheon, struggling to free himself from the bonds that hold him to the earth. I see this as symbolic for the personal struggle that we all face, trying to free ourselves from worldly trappings so we can elevate our consciousness and actualize the divine spirit within us all.

In the first two stanzas, Blake asserts that nothing can exist without its opposite. There can be no good without evil. There must always be a balance in order for things to exist in this universe.

In the third stanza, we see Urizen shedding tears which become the seeds from which grows the Tree of Mystery. Urizen, being the creator of all existence, understands that everything must have its opposite and mourns the lot of humanity, which will eternally grapple with fear, cruelty, and hatred. From Urizen’s tears the roots of the Tree of Mystery grow. The Tree of Mystery is Blake’s equivalent to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The tree bears fruits which are both good and evil, and as we see in the fifth stanza, the fruits of evil are certainly the most tempting.

In the fourth and fifth stanzas, Blake mentions three creatures: catterpillar, fly, and raven. These are symbols for the church and its priests, who feed on the leaves of the Tree of Mystery, who nest and hide within its branches, but have no understanding of the roots, or the hidden aspects. Blake is asserting that following church dogma will ultimately prevent you from discovering the secret to the divinity within you and the mystery of all creation.

I personally find the final stanza in the poem to be the most fascinating. Just like the biblical Tree of Knowledge, Blake’s Tree of Mystery is also hidden. “The Gods of the earth and sea” which he mentions I interpret to be humans, who have dominion over the earth. We have a tendency to seek outside ourselves for the truth, believing that the answers to the ultimate mystery must exist somewhere else. But this is not the case. The Tree of Mystery grows and is hidden within the human subconscious. It is the one place where too many of us fail to look, and hence the search for truth is often in vain.

This poem is a great introduction to Blake’s more complex metaphysical poetry. I encourage you to read it a few times and contemplate it. I’ll definitely be covering Blake’s deeper metaphysical poems once I complete all of the Songs of Experience.

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“Sonnet 6: Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface” by William Shakespeare – Hidden Number Mysticism?

Shakespeare

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure, ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thyself to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thyself were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do, if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair,
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.

And we have yet another fair youth sonnet addressing procreation. But this one is a little more interesting, particularly in the use of metaphors and the incorporation of what may be some number mysticism.

In the first two lines, Shakespeare encourages the young man to have children before he gets too old. I really like the phrase “winter’s ragged hand.” It evokes an image of an old, weathered face, accompanied by aged hands with loose skin draped over the bones.

In lines 3 and 4, Shakespeare uses the vial as a symbol for a woman’s genitalia. The youth is encouraged to find a wife he can treasure and who will bear his children.

With line 5, things start to get a little interesting. References are made to usury, which in Shakespeare’s time was the loaning of money at an interest greater than 10%. We then have the word “ten” repeated five times. The number 10 has mystical significance. According to Pythagoras, 10 is represented by the decad, which is symbolic of the world and heaven and is fundamental to understanding the creation of the universe. For more on Pythagoras’ theory, here is a brief and informative article: Pythagoras and the Mystery of Numbers.

The next thing I would like to point out is the importance of the number 10 in Jewish kabbalistic mysticism. The Tree of Life contains ten sephirot. Basically, the ten sephirot are the divine emanations from God which are the basis of all creation. I do not know if Shakespeare possessed a firm grasp of Jewish mysticism, but I would not be surprised if his contemporaries were studying this and possibly shared some insight.

TreeOfLifeKabbalah

The last thing I want to point out about the number 10 is that the last mention of the number in this sonnet occurs in line 10. I personally do not think this is a coincidence. I suspect Shakespeare did this to emphasize the importance of this number.

I also want to comment on the last line. As I read it, I could not help thinking about Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, “The Conqueror Worm.” It is one of my favorite poems by Poe. If you’re interested, click here to read my thoughts on that poem.

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“Elevation” by Charles Baudelaire

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Since there are various translations of this poem, I am including the one by Roy Campbell, which is the version in my book.

Above the valleys and the lakes: beyond
The woods, seas, clouds and mountain-ranges: far
Above the sun, the aethers silver-swanned
With nebulae, and the remotest star,

My spirit! with agility you move
Like a strong swimmer with the seas to fight,
Through the blue vastness furrowing your groove
With an ineffable and male delight.

Far from these foetid marshes, be made pure
In the pure air of the superior sky,
And drink, like some most exquisite liqueur,
The fire that fills the lucid realms on high.

Beyond where cares or boredom hold dominion,
Which charge our fogged existence with their spleen,
Happy is he who with a stalwart pinion
Can seek those fields so shining and serene:

Whose thoughts, like larks, rise on the freshening breeze
Who fans the morning with his tameless wings,
Skims over life, and understands with ease
The speech of flowers and other voiceless things.

This is a great poem and has some amazing symbolism woven in. It basically attempts to describe the ecstatic feeling associated with shifting consciousness and then drawing artistic inspiration from that experience.

In the first stanza, the spirit (consciousness) of the poet rises above the earthly confines and floats upward into the cosmos. This represents the psyche transcending its worldly bonds and being freed to explore the vast mystery of the deep subconscious.

In the second stanza, Baudelaire associates the transcendent experience with sexual ecstasy. The spirit moves like sperm toward an egg, the union being the moment of creation. Essentially, when the spirit becomes one with the ineffable form, the result is the spark of creation, just as the sperm reaching the egg is the spark of new life.

The third stanza marks the transition from spark to flame, symbolic of the illumination that one experiences during the state of heightened awareness. It is akin to feeling intoxicated, which is why Baudelaire uses fire and liqueur as metaphors.

In the fourth stanza, Baudelaire acknowledges ennui as his motivation for striving to transcend. It is his boredom and sickness that forces him to seek beyond himself and the mundane. It is his desire to escape what he sees around him that inspires him to elevate his consciousness and explore the realms beyond our everyday experience.

The last stanza is my favorite. As the poet basks in the elevated state, he understands things that are outside the comprehension of ordinary consciousness. It is effortless and it fills him with bliss. “The speech of flowers and other voiceless things” refer to symbols, archetypes, and forms, those things that exist within our subconscious. These symbols have their own language and only one who is elevated above the mundane can comprehend them. The fact that these are described as voiceless implies that Baudelaire will never be able to express them adequately, even through his most inspired verse. At best, he can offer a glimpse of the beauty that exists just past the veil of our world.

The more I think about this poem, the more inspired I feel. I hope you feel the same way. Have a blessed and inspired day!

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Symbolism in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

MissPeregrine

So I decided to take a break from reading Joyce’s Ulysses and read something more fun. Also, I was taking a short beach trip and was afraid I’d look awfully pretentious lying on the beach reading James Joyce. So this book was on my shelf and it seemed like a good choice for a beach read. I have to say that it was the perfect book, a quick read and enjoyable.

The book is kind of a dark fantasy novel, dealing with time loops, Lovecraftian monsters, mystical powers, and psychological trauma. While it sounds pretty morbid, it’s not quite as dark as it sounds. But what makes this book so cool, in my opinion, are the photographs included in the book. Riggs incorporates black-and-white pictures as part of the story, and there are quite a lot of them. It works really well. It is almost like a hybrid between a graphic novel and a “normal” book. It also sometimes feels like one of those old films that project a series of images to tell the story.

There is a lot of great symbolism in this book. So while it is a plot-driven story, there is much that you can think about if you choose. The first symbol worth considering is the island, where most of the story takes place. The island is a symbol for an isolated part of the psyche, a fixed point in the rippling sea of consciousness. And like our subconscious, the island is shrouded in mystery.

It was my grandfather’s island. Looming and bleak, folded in mist, guarded by a million screeching birds, it looked like some ancient fortress constructed by giants. As I gazed up at its sheer cliffs, tops disappearing in a reef of ghostly clouds, the idea that this was a magical place didn’t seem so ridiculous.

(p. 70)

The island has a bog, which is a point of transition between two dimensions. This represents a part of the psyche where it is possible to shift between states of consciousness. The bog is neither solid nor fluid, but a combination of the both, like a threshold. It symbolizes the psychic membrane which one must pass through when altering states of consciousness.

And as doors to the next world go, a bog ain’t a bad choice. It’s not quite water and not quite land—it’s an in-between place.

(p. 94)

There is one scene where sheep on the island were killed and mutilated. This is symbolic of the sacrificial lamb archetype. In this book, the sheep represent the Jews that were killed by the Nazis in World War II, and they also represent the peculiars, who are being hunted down.

The violence inside was almost cartoonish, like the work of some mad impressionist who painted only in red. The tramped grass was bathed in blood, as were the pen’s weathered posts and the stiff white bodies of the sheep themselves, flung about in attitudes of sheepish agony. One had tried to climb the fence and got its spindly legs caught between the slats. It hung before me at an odd angle, clam-shelled open from throat to crotch, as if it had been unzipped.

(p. 204)

The last symbol I want to mention is the homunculus. One of the peculiars is able to create homunculi out of clay. This draws on the golem mythology and the Frankenstein parable, of one who plays god and creates man from the earth. In the book, Enoch, the peculiar who makes the clay beings, takes on the characteristics of the cruel god, torturing and punishing his creations for not doing his will.

The clay soldier I’d returned began wandering again. With his foot, Enoch nudged it back toward the group. They seemed to be going haywire, colliding with one another like excited atoms. “Fight, you nancies!” he commanded, which is when I realized they weren’t simply bumping into one another, but hitting and kicking. The errant clay man wasn’t interested in fighting, however, and when he began to totter away once more, Enoch snatched him up and snapped off his legs.

“That’s what happens to deserters in my army!” he cried, and tossed the crippled figure into the grass, where it writhed grotesquely as the others fell upon it.

(p. 217)

As I said, I really liked this book. The only complaint I have about it is that it is the first book in a series, so it has an open ending that anticipates the next book, which is Hollow City. I will certainly read the next book, but I am just getting a little tired of serialized books. It seems to have become the norm in publishing, kind of a way to ensure future book sales. Other than that, great book and I totally recommend reading it. Cheers!!

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“Sonnet 2: When forty winters shall beseige thy brow” by William Shakespeare

Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt

When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

This is a continuation of the themes of beauty and procreation expressed in Sonnet 1. It appears that the woman who is the focus in this sonnet is endowed with physical beauty, which, Shakespeare points out, will be gone by the time she reaches 40. So again the issue of procreation is brought forth, as a way to pass on one’s beauty and keep it alive.

While this seems to be the main concept in the poem, I see another interpretation that I think is far more interesting, at least from a writer’s perspective. I see the child as a symbol for something you create, and for a poet, that would be a poem. How does beauty transcend the ravages of time? Through art. Every time I have crafted a poem or written a story, it was like giving birth to an idea or vision which I had. I cannot say that this was what Shakespeare had in mind when he penned this sonnet, but I can definitely see the child as a metaphor for an artistic creation.

One of the cool things about Shakespeare is that his work really does transcend the ages. His words are universal and I believe that 100 years from now, people will still be reinterpreting what he wrote.

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“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 3 of 4: The Dry Salvages

FourQuartets

The third of the Four Quartets, “The Dry Salvages,” uses water and the ocean as metaphors throughout the poem. The ocean symbolizes the collective unconscious, where our individual consciousnesses can either drift aimlessly, or merge and become part of the Universal Mind.

Eliot begins the poem by establishing a connection between water and the divine consciousness, or god. God is represented by a river, implying that a connection with god provides a pathway for our consciousnesses to flow into and merge with the collective unconscious. Unfortunately, we have allowed our obsession with science and technology to interfere with our ability to connect with the “river god.”

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognized as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

Eliot then makes the connection between our consciousness and the collective. In keeping with Eastern mystical traditions, it is described as being with us and at the same time around us. It is what connects us to the world around us, as well as to all creation.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:

(Lines 15 – 18)

In the second section of the poem, humans are depicted as lost and adrift in the sea of consciousness. Our psyches have become fragmented and we are like the wreckage of ships tossed aimlessly, instead of voyagers navigating the realm of the divine consciousness.

There is no end of it, the voiceless wailing,
No end to the withering of withered flowers,
To the movement of pain that is painless and motionless,
To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage,

(Lines 79 – 82)

JMW Turner

JMW Turner

Later in the poem, Eliot attempts to describe the connection between the individual and the collective consciousnesses, but admits that it is something beyond verbal expression.

I have said before
That the past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations—not forgetting
Something that is probably quite ineffable:

(Lines 96 – 100)

For me, the final stanza, which comprises the entire fifth section, is the most fascinating. Here, Eliot describes our interest in the mystical arts as an attempt to guide us through the turbulent sea of consciousness.

To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,
To report the behaviour of the sea monster,
Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,
Observe disease in signatures, evoke
Biography from the wrinkles of the palm
And tragedy from fingers; release omens
By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable
With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams
Or barbituric acids, or dissect
The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors—
To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams;

(Lines 184 – 194)

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

While I personally do not think this poem is as great as the first two in the book, it is still a very good poem and worth taking the time to read. There is quite a bit more in there that I didn’t cover but could certainly be explored, such as the metaphor of the train symbolizing our movement from past to future, as well as some interesting allusions to Christian and Eastern mysticism. Again, it’s definitely worth reading.

Look for Part 4—“Little Gidding”—soon.

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“Footnote to Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

In my last post I talked about “Howl.” At the end of that post, I promised that I would read and write about the “Footnote to Howl” next, so here we are. As a bonus, I’ve included a video of a Patti Smith performance where she reads the poem onstage with musical accompaniment. It’s excellent. Take the six minutes or so to watch it. This poem was meant to be heard, not just read.

This poem reads like a chant or an invocation, with repetition is used to reinforce the poem’s main tenet—that everything which exists in this world is holy. Everything in existence is an emanation from the divine godhead. If you hold this belief to be true, then everything that exists must be part of the divine being and therefore must also be divine. Ginsberg brilliantly juxtaposes images to force us to look at our preconceived notions of what is holy and what is not. Is the soul more holy than the genitals or asshole? Are the educated and the middle class more holy than the beggars in the street? Are the residents of one place more holy than the residents of another? Ginsberg’s answer is “no… everything is holy.” I’m inclined to agree.

There really isn’t much more to say about this poem. For me, it’s a celebration of life. It is the acceptance of people and diversity. We are all part of the divine creation, and that is a beautiful thing.

Now watch Patti Smith and be inspired! And for those of you who celebrate, have a blessed Solstice.

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Male/Female Duality in “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare

TwelfthNightThis was my first time reading Twelfth Night and I loved it. It was very funny and enjoyable to read. Since Twelfth Night is January 5 and concludes the twelve days of Christmas, it seemed like the right time of the year to read this.

Anyone familiar with this play knows that transvestism and homosexuality figure prominently. Viola is dressed as a man most of the play and although she loves the Duke, she inspires the love of Olivia. The Duke, although he professes his love for Olivia, seems to have at least some interest in Cesario (who is actually Viola in drag). Then there is something going on between Sebastian (Viola’s brother) and Antonio, who is a sea captain who saved Sebastian after he was shipwrecked. And if all this wasn’t crazy enough, Sir Andrew is also in love with Olivia, and Maria (who is Olivia’s attending woman and just happens to be in love with Olivia’s uncle) tricks Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, into thinking Olivia loves him and wants him to come to her cross-gartered and wearing yellow stockings. All this combined sets the stage for some great scenes and some witty dialog.

The dialog is filled with sexual innuendos and double entendres. One of my favorites is when the Duke is addressing Viola in drag and tells her how her voice is like a woman’s because of “his” young age, but in words that imply that he has a very small penis which could be mistaken for female genitalia.

… Diana’s lip
Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe
Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound,
And all is semblative a woman’s part.

(Act I: scene iv)

The homosexual and transvestite aspects of this play could certainly be explored more, but I found something that for me was much more intriguing, that of a male/female duality. This is something that has fascinated me for a long time—the idea that the human archetype, or Platonic form, encompasses both the masculine and the feminine. In fact, one of the most thought-provoking passages from the Book of Genesis is when god creates the first “man” who is both male and female, just as the godhead appears as a dyad which is both male and female.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

(Genesis: Chapter 1, verse 26-27, King James Version)

Now let’s look at Shakespeare’s text. When the Duke sees Viola and Sebastian together, he states:

One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons,
A natural perspective that is and is not!

(Act V: scene i)

There is an implied duality here, where male and female are as one. It reminds me of Carl Jung’s concept of the animus and anima, how the human consciousness has two aspects, a masculine and a feminine.

Shortly afterwards, an allusion is made to the symbolic division of the masculine and feminine.

How have you made division of yourself?
An apple, cleft in two, is not more twin
Than these two creatures.

(Act V: scene i)

This is a clear reference to the biblical myth of Adam and Eve. According to Jewish kabbalistic ideology, the original Adam (called Adam Kadmon) was the archetype for humans and was essentially godlike, containing both the masculine and the feminine. But then the unity was split and this division ultimately led to the fall from grace and expulsion from the Garden. By incorporating the metaphor of the apple, Shakespeare reinforces the connection between Viola and Sebastian and Adam and Eve.

The genius of Shakespeare is that his work can continue to be interpreted in myriad ways. Do I think that Shakespeare consciously made these allusions to Jewish and Platonic mysticism? I would have to say that he probably didn’t. But, he clearly tapped into something greater than himself that inspired his words, words that continue to inspire today.

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“Sailing to Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats

YeatsOlder

Generally, I avoid including the full text from longer poems in my posts and will instead provide a link to the online version, but “Sailing to Byzantium” deserves to be included in full. I decided to include each of the four stanzas and offer my interpretation of each stanza before moving on to the next one.

I
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect.

In the opening stanza, there are two things happening here. On one level, Yeats is expressing his disillusionment with the people of Ireland. The younger generations do not appear to appreciate Ireland’s ancient heritage, nor are they interested in the noble pursuit of poetry. But in addition to that, Yeats is hinting at something deeper and infinitely more mystical, which will be unveiled later in the poem. It has to do with resurrection mythology. For now, just keep the images of old men, young people, dying generations, and trees in the back of your mind.

II
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

Here Yeats asserts that an old man is worthless, unless that aged individual possesses the ability to create poetry. And it must be poetry infused with mystical power, poetry that comes from a source that is divine of nature. In order to tap into that source, Yeats plunges himself into his subconscious mind, symbolized by the “seas,” and navigates those seas of consciousness until he reaches the mystical realm represented by the city of Byzantium.

There is a reason why Yeats chose Byzantium as the symbol for the mystical source of his poetry. In addition to being the center of classical thought in the late Hellenistic period, Byzantium had adopted the occult symbol of the star and crescent moon as their emblem. This was a result of their devotion to Hecate, whom the Byzantines believed was protecting them. (source: Wikipedia) As a practicing member of the Golden Dawn, Yeats would have viewed this connection as important, since Hecate is the goddess who is believed to endow magicians with power and knowledge.

III
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

There is a lot happening in the third stanza. The holy fire is mentioned twice, so the importance is being stressed. There are layers of symbolism here. First, the holy fire represents the spark of life, creation itself. It is also illumination and enlightenment. Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, is the association with rebirth and regeneration, like that of the phoenix. The dying god spins within the gyre of flame, preparing to reemerge as a reborn god. As the god is dying and being consumed by the holy flames, the mystic bards sing the verses of the sacred poetry which will help bring about the rebirth of the dying god.

At this point, you may be thinking that my interpretation is a bit of a stretch, but reserve judgment until you read the final stanza.

IV
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

GoldenBoughHere we have the key to the poem, which is the golden bough. Yeats would certainly have been very familiar with Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Frazer’s book is the quintessential work exploring the mythology of resurrection and the dying god. So the god does not take his “bodily form from any natural thing,” but instead comes from the realm of forms as expressed by the Platonic school of thought. All the golden imagery in this stanza evokes the image of the sacred king, which is the term that Frazer uses regarding the archetypal image of the dying/reborn god. The cycle is eternal; it encompasses “what is past, or passing, or to come.” The imagery from the first stanza of the old men (dying god), young people (reborn god), and trees  (symbols of rebirth) are all brought together.

The last thing I would like to point out about the poem is the overall structure. The poem is divided into four stanzas. I feel that this was an intentional representation of the four seasons, which is also symbolic of the overall theme of the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

The first time I read this poem in college I didn’t get it, but I remember my professor saying that the more you read poetry, the more you will learn to appreciate Yeats. I’ve come to the point in my life where I feel like I can finally start to fully appreciate the scope of what Yeats accomplished as a poet.

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