"Byzantium" is Irish poet W.B. Yeats's meditation on the relationship between mortality and immortality, the physical world and the spiritual world, and humanity and art. In this complex, mysterious poem, the speaker's visions of the sacred city of Byzantium trace a "winding path" that leads from messy, emotional human life to the serenity and perfection of great art. Art, the poem suggests, is paradoxical: even artworks that seem to touch immortal perfection need to be made by mortal human hands. Yeats first published "Byzantium" in his 1930 collection Words for Music, Perhaps, and Other Poems.
The unpurged images ...
... great cathedral gong;
A starlit or ...
... of human veins.
Before me floats ...
... the winding path;
A mouth that ...
... death-in-life and life-in-death.
Miracle, bird or ...
... of Hades crow,
Or, by the ...
... mire or blood.
At midnight on ...
... begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits ...
... singe a sleeve.
Astraddle on the ...
... furies of complexity,
Those images that ...
... that gong-tormented sea.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
The Poem Aloud — Listen to a reading of the poem.
A Brief Biography — Learn more about Yeats's life and work at the Poetry Foundation's website.
Yeats's Influence — Listen to a radio program discussing Yeats's complex legacy as an artist and a thinker.
A Celebration of Yeats — Read an article about the 2015 celebration of Yeats's 150th birthday.
Yeats's Voice — Listen to a recording of Yeats performing his own poetry and get a feel for his sense of music.
1The unpurged images of day recede;
2The Emperor's drunken soldiery are abed;
3Night resonance recedes, night-walkers' song
4After great cathedral gong;
5A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
6All that man is,
7All mere complexities,
8The fury and the mire of human veins.
9Before me floats an image, man or shade,
10Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
11For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
12May unwind the winding path;
13A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
14Breathless mouths may summon;
15I hail the superhuman;
16I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.
17Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
18More miracle than bird or handiwork,
19Planted on the starlit golden bough,
20Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
21Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
22In glory of changeless metal
23Common bird or petal
24And all complexities of mire or blood.
25At midnight on the Emperor's pavement flit
26Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
27Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
28Where blood-begotten spirits come
29And all complexities of fury leave,
30Dying into a dance,
31An agony of trance,
32An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.
33Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,
34Spirit after spirit! The smithies break the flood,
35The golden smithies of the Emperor!
36Marbles of the dancing floor
37Break bitter furies of complexity,
38Those images that yet
39Fresh images beget,
40That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.