lf said “Poetry is no rootless flower, but the speech of man” and this concept is reflected deeply in his poetic works as he expresses concerns and ideas of close regard to himself and makes them memorable to the reader through his linguistic craftsmanship and mastery of poetic techniques. The Wild Swans At Coole (hereafter WS) examines the theme of intimate change and personal yearning, whilst The Second Coming (hereafter SC) examines change in context with cultural dissolution and fear.
It is because Yeats’ poetry is so deeply grounded in his own human feelings and is such an artful expression of those emotions that the ideas he presents in these poems resonate with the reader long after the piece has been read. WS is Yeats’ melancholy lament for the progression of time and the transitory nature of the human life which draws upon our own feelings of mutability to resonate beyond the page. Yeats introduces time to the poem with the reference to autumn, creating tactility in the physical image but more importantly an effected ambience.
Yeats employs autumn as an objective correlative, divulging his feelings of progression towards poetical and physical sterility as he entered the “twilight” years of his life, a change which he resolutely resents. This progression is contrasted starkly against the temporal wild swans whose “hearts have not grown old”, in fact Yeats views the swans, “wheeling in great broken rings,” as transcendent of time, breaking free of the gyres applicable only to the temporal earth and human kind.
His fascination with their changeless state is evident as he positions the swans both in water, the mundane world and then includes their transcendence into the air, the eternal and spiritual, an attribute that he is most envious of, to the point that “it makes his heart sore. ” The poem leaves us in admiration of these eternal creatures that transcend change and allows us to reflect, as Yeats did, upon our own struggle with the progression of time, reminding us of our desire for youth and vitality.
Likewise in SC, Yeats delves into the inevitable nature of change although now through the expression of his own apprehensions about the transformation in world order that he saw as impending. The opening lines create an immediate discomfort in the giddying centrifugal imagery of both the falcon and the gyre, conveying to the reader a change that is beyond its control, just as the falcon is beyond the restraint of the falconer.
The gyres are particularly central to Yeats expression in this poem as he believed the end of an era was immanent and this is his modernist expression of the expectations of the antithetical gyre that was soon to take hold. The sense of inevitability is bolstered further by the approach of the sphinx a symbol for the impending new order, an Egyptian spiritual symbol that is inevitably to overtake the Christian order, sibilant ‘s’es employed to mirror the sound of its “slow thighs” in its approach.
In these ways Yeats uses his poetic mastery to convey the inevitability of the change he saw as binding, but executing this in such an ambiguous way so as to create a piece that is implicitly timeless and memorable. Wild Swans is an expression of Yeats’ yearning which through its ambiguous longing allows the reader’s own yearnings to be brought foremost in our mind as we identify with the author.
Yeats presents a repine of his rejection by Maud and her daughter in his reference to the companionship of the swans “lover by lover” while syntax of “nine-and-fifty” allows the reader to appreciate the presence of a lone swan, who Yeats is identifying himself with. Furthermore he expresses his resentment at the loss of the prerogatives of youth, and a desire for the passion and energy of the swans through the auditory imagery of the “bell-beat of their wings,” a ring reverberating the energy possessed by the birds.
The tension created by the comparison of the binary opposites of the static Yeats “upon this shore”, restricted by his mortality, to the itinerant swans, free to “mount”, “drift”, and “scatter”, the inclusion of dynamic verbs conveying their freedom to pursue fleeting desires and impulse. In this way Yeats allows us to realise how the universal yearnings for love and freedom affect our happiness as he conveys his melancholy in the absence of these two elements, creating textual integrity through his linguistic craftsmanship and the timeless presentation of human yearning.
The sense of fear in SC is born out of a yearning for knowledge, the ambiguity of Yeats’ work plays on this yearning to induce a feeling of discomfort and discontent, a feeling which is tormentingly memorable. The use of biblical imagery in his allusion to the impending unknown serves to add to our confusion and discontent as Christian symbols are used as a description of the religion’s very inverse. The rough iambic pentameter creates familiarity but only to a degree, the half rhyme echoing a world almost completely different from the one we are experiencing just as the beat and rhyme are only a ghost of a conventional poem.
The beast of the new age, unnamed and non-specifically positioned “somewhere in the sands of the desert” leaves the reader with only confusion as Yeats impresses upon the audience his anxiousness about the specifics of the new era he saw as impending. The breakdown of structure as the poem progresses works twofold, firstly as an indication of social dissolution but secondly as a restriction upon the reader and a trigger for the sense of claustrophobia as the new age approaches.
Most notably he ends with a typical Yeatsian rhetorical question appealing to his audience to consider the themes beyond reading, directly relating to the audience and producing a memorable idea. As Yeats employs these poetic techniques he creates textual integrity as his ambivalent themes transcend time to appeal to many audiences with universal ideas. His layering of concept and meaning in entwining of accordance to his personal context and concerns synthesises a great whole in his poetry, one that is relatable and highly memorable.