“Sailing to Byzantium,” by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), is essentially about the difficulty of keeping one’s soul alive in a fragile, failing human body. The speaker, an old man, leaves behind the country of the young for a visionary quest to Byzantium, the ancient city that was a major seat of early Christianity. There, he hopes to learn how to move past his mortality and become something more like an immortal work of art.
That is no ... for old men.
The young ...
... the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or ...
... of unageing intellect.
An aged man ...
... its mortal dress,
Nor is there ...
... its own magnificence;
And therefore I ...
... city of Byzantium.
O sages standing ...
... of my soul.
Consume my heart ...
... artifice of eternity.
Once out of ...
... drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon ...
... or to come.
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.
A Reading of the Poem — The Irish actor Dermot Crowley reads "Sailing to Byzantium" and discusses what it means to him.
Yeats's Biography — A short biography of Yeats with links to more of his poems
Yeats in Ireland — Some background on Yeats's strong connections to his native Ireland.
LitChart for "No Country for Old Men" — A guide to a book that takes its title from this poem. Why do you think McCarthy might have chosen this line?
Byzantine Mosaics — A Wikipedia article (with many lovely pictures) on Byzantine mosaic art.
1That is no country for old men. The young
2In one another's arms, birds in the trees,
3—Those dying generations—at their song,
4The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
5Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
6Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
7Caught in that sensual music all neglect
8Monuments of unageing intellect.
9An aged man is but a paltry thing,
10A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
11Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
12For every tatter in its mortal dress,
13Nor is there singing school but studying
14Monuments of its own magnificence;
15And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
16To the holy city of Byzantium.
17O sages standing in God's holy fire
18As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
19Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
20And be the singing-masters of my soul.
21Consume my heart away; sick with desire
22And fastened to a dying animal
23It knows not what it is; and gather me
24Into the artifice of eternity.
25Once out of nature I shall never take
26My bodily form from any natural thing,
27But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
28Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
29To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
30Or set upon a golden bough to sing
31To lords and ladies of Byzantium
32Of what is past, or passing, or to come.