Sailing to Byzantium poem summary line by line

Sailing to Byzantium poem summary line by line

Sailing to Byzantium poem summary line by line-The poem "Sailing to Byzantium" is a significant creation by the celebrated Irish poet William Butler Yeats, composed in 1926. It marks a departure from Yeats's earlier themes of romance and nationalism, instead delving into profound reflections on existence and artistic expression. 

Sailing to Byzantium poem summary line by line

Sailing to Byzantium poem summary line by line-Through vivid imagery, intricate symbolism, and philosophical inquiry, the poem explores themes of mortality, transcendence, and the human yearning for immortality. As readers embark on this poetic journey, they are encouraged to contemplate the complexities of life and the enduring pursuit of spiritual and creative fulfillment amidst the ever-changing passage of time.

Sailing to Byzantium poem summary

"Once more the storm is howling, and half hid"

The speaker begins by describing the setting, noting the stormy weather.

"Under this cradle-hood and coverlid"

The speaker mentions that their child is sleeping under the protection of a cradle-hood and coverlid.

"My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle"

Despite the storm, the child continues to sleep peacefully without disturbance.

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"But Gregory's wood and one bare hill"

The speaker identifies two obstacles that partially shield the child from the storm: Gregory's wood and a lone hill.


"Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,"

The wind, powerful enough to level haystacks and roofs, is mentioned as a force of nature.

"Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;"

The wind originates from the Atlantic, and these natural barriers are the only things slowing its force.

"And for an hour I have walked and prayed"

The speaker has spent an hour walking and praying, possibly seeking solace or protection for the child.

"Because of the great gloom that is in my mind."

The speaker's mood is somber, and the prayers may be a response to inner turmoil.

"I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour"

The speaker reiterates the action of walking and praying, specifically for the well-being of the child.

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"And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,"

The speaker describes the sound of the sea-wind screaming upon a tower, emphasizing the intensity of the storm.

"And under the arches of the bridge, and scream"

The wind's sound is further emphasized as it echoes under the arches of a bridge.

"In the elms above the flooded stream;"

The wind's sound extends to the elms above a flooded stream, creating an atmosphere of tumult.

"Imagining in excited reverie"

The speaker enters a state of excited daydreaming or imagination.

"That the future years had come,"

The speaker envisions the future, anticipating the years to come.

"Dancing to a frenzied drum,"

The imagery of dancing suggests a lively and possibly tumultuous future.

"Out of the murderous innocence of the sea."

The sea, described as both murderous and innocent, becomes a source or backdrop for the anticipated future.

"May she be granted beauty and yet not"

The speaker expresses a wish for the child to be granted beauty, but with a caveat.


"Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,"

The beauty shouldn't be so overwhelming that it disturbs or upsets a stranger who looks upon the child.

"Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,"

The speaker wishes that the child's beauty doesn't lead to self-absorption or vanity.

"Being made beautiful overmuch,"

Excessive beauty may have negative consequences.

"Consider beauty a sufficient end,"

The concern is that an overly beautiful person might prioritize their appearance above all else.

"Lose natural kindness and maybe"

Excessive focus on beauty might lead to a loss of natural kindness.

"The heart-revealing intimacy"

A warning that preoccupation with beauty might hinder genuine, heart-revealing connections.

"That chooses right, and never find a friend."

The fear is that a person overly concerned with their beauty might struggle to make true, lasting friendships.


"Helen being chosen found life flat and dull"

The speaker begins by referring to Helen, who, despite being chosen, found life monotonous and uninteresting.

"And later had much trouble from a fool,"

Helen's later experiences include difficulties caused by a foolish person.

"While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,"

Shifting to another figure, the speaker mentions a great queen who emerged from the sea spray.

"Being fatherless could have her way"

This queen, lacking a father, was independent and had the freedom to choose her path.

"Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man."

Despite her freedom, the queen chose a blacksmith with bowed legs as her partner.

"It's certain that fine women eat"

The speaker makes a general observation about attractive women.

"A crazy salad with their meat"

They metaphorically consume a mix of eccentricities or difficulties in life.


"Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone."

This salad metaphorically undoes the abundance or prosperity associated with the Horn of Plenty.

"In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned;"

The speaker expresses a preference for the woman (possibly a daughter or someone important) to be educated and knowledgeable.

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"Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned"

The speaker emphasizes that genuine affection is not given freely but is earned through one's actions.

"By those that are not entirely beautiful;"

True love is earned by individuals who may not be conventionally beautiful.

"Yet many, that have played the fool"

Despite playing the fool in the pursuit of beauty, many individuals gain wisdom through experience.

"For beauty's very self, has charm made wise,"

Wisdom is acquired through the charm inherent in beauty itself.

"And many a poor man that has roved,"

Even poor individuals who have wandered and sought love.

"Loved and thought himself beloved,"

Experienced love and believed they were reciprocated.

"From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes."

Such individuals, touched by genuine kindness, cannot help but appreciate it.

"May she become a flourishing hidden tree"

The speaker wishes for the woman to grow into a thriving, yet discreet, existence.


"That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,"

The speaker desires her thoughts to be as melodious and joyful as a linnet (a small bird).

"And have no business but dispensing round"

The woman's primary concern should be spreading benevolence.

"Their magnanimities of sound,"

Her actions should be generous and uplifting, like the magnanimous sounds of a bird.

"Nor but in merriment begin a chase,"

The woman should engage in pursuits and challenges only in moments of joy.

"Nor but in merriment a quarrel."

Similarly, conflicts should be approached with a spirit of joy.

"O may she live like some green laurel"

The speaker wishes for her to have a life akin to a flourishing laurel tree.

"Rooted in one dear perpetual place."

Rooted in a constant and cherished location, symbolizing stability and contentment.


"My mind, because the minds that I have loved,"

The speaker begins by reflecting on their own mind, influenced by the minds they have cherished.

"The sort of beauty that I have approved,"

The speaker mentions a particular kind of beauty they appreciate.

"Prosper but little, has dried up of late,"

Despite appreciating certain types of beauty, the speaker's mind has recently become less fertile or creative.

"Yet knows that to be choked with hate"

Despite the challenges, the speaker acknowledges that succumbing to hatred is one of the worst fates.

"May well be of all evil chances chief."

Hatred is considered the most severe and harmful among all negative outcomes.

"If there's no hatred in a mind"

The absence of hatred in one's mind is highlighted.

"Assault and battery of the wind"

Without hatred, external challenges or turmoil cannot forcibly remove one's inner peace.

"Can never tear the linnet from the leaf."

Comparatively, the absence of hatred protects one's inner peace, like the wind cannot forcibly tear a linnet (a small bird) from a leaf.

"An intellectual hatred is the worst,"

The speaker suggests that intellectual or ideological hatred is particularly damaging.

"So let her think opinions are accursed."

The speaker advises someone to consider opinions as cursed to avoid falling into intellectual hatred.

"Have I not seen the loveliest woman born"

The speaker reflects on witnessing the birth of the loveliest woman.

"Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn,"

This woman emerged from a horn associated with abundance, symbolizing prosperity.

"Because of her opinionated mind"

However, her beauty was compromised by her strong and opinionated mind.

"Barter that horn and every good"

She traded the horn of Plenty and all its blessings.

"By quiet natures understood"

In exchange for a more tranquil and easily understood existence.

"For an old bellows full of angry wind?"

The speaker metaphorically likens the woman's opinionated mind to an old bellows filled with angry wind, suggesting turmoil and negativity.

"Considering that, all hatred driven hence,"

Contemplating this situation, the speaker suggests that once all hatred is eradicated.


"The soul recovers radical innocence"

The soul regains a pure and unblemished innocence.

"And learns at last that it is self-delighting,"

The soul discovers that it is inherently self-delighting.

"Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,"

It can bring itself comfort or anxiety without external influences.

"And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will;"

The speaker asserts that the soul's true desires align with the will of Heaven.

"She can, though every face should scowl"

The soul can remain content even if faced with disapproval.

"And every windy quarter howl"

Even if every direction echoes with opposition.

"Or every bellows burst, be happy still."

Or if all external turmoil intensifies, the soul can still find happiness.

"And may her bridegroom bring her to a house"

The speaker expresses a wish for the woman's bridegroom to lead her to a specific type of home.

"Where all's accustomed, ceremonious;"

A home marked by familiarity and ceremony.

"For arrogance and hatred are the wares"

In contrast, arrogance and hatred are likened to commodities.

"Peddled in the thoroughfares."

Sold or spread in public spaces.


"How but in custom and in ceremony"

The speaker suggests that innocence and beauty are born through established traditions and ceremonies.

"Are innocence and beauty born?"

These qualities are nurtured within the confines of custom and ceremony.

"Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,"

Ceremony is associated with the rich abundance of the horn.

"And custom for the spreading laurel tree."

Custom is likened to the flourishing laurel tree, symbolizing growth and beauty.

Sailing to Byzantium poem Themes

The Mind and its State:

The speaker reflects on the condition of their own mind, noting its recent lack of fertility. The poem underscores the detrimental effects of hatred on the mind, while also highlighting how the absence of hatred can serve as a protective force against external challenges.

Intellectual Hatred:

A significant theme emerges regarding intellectual or ideological hatred, with the speaker cautioning against viewing opinions as accursed to avoid succumbing to intellectual animosity.

Beauty and Intellectual Opinions:

The poem navigates the tension between physical beauty and intellectual opinions. It introduces a scenario where a woman compromises her blessings and abundance from Plenty's horn due to possessing an opinionated mind. This prompts contemplation on the true nature of beauty and its intricate relationship with internal attributes.

Innocence and Wisdom:

Themes of innocence and wisdom interplay in the poem. The eradication of hatred is linked with the restoration of radical innocence, portraying wisdom as a product of experiences, even those where individuals may have played the fool in pursuit of beauty.

The Soul's Inner Contentment:

The poem emphasizes the soul's ability to find self-delight and contentment independently of external circumstances. Freed from hatred, the soul is characterized as self-appeasing and self-affrighting, showcasing its resilience and autonomy.

Alignment with Heaven's Will:

A theme surfaces regarding the alignment of the soul's true desires with Heaven's will. The poem suggests that despite external disapproval, opposition, or turmoil, the soul can discover inner happiness.

Role of Custom and Ceremony:

The final lines underscore the significance of custom and ceremony in preserving innocence and beauty. Ceremony is associated with the abundance of Plenty's horn, symbolizing prosperity, while custom is likened to the spreading laurel tree, signifying growth and beauty. This theme highlights the role of tradition and established practices in nurturing positive qualities.

Negative Forces of Arrogance and Hatred:

The poem portrays arrogance and hatred as detrimental forces peddled in public spaces. It implies that these qualities are harmful to both individuals and society, drawing a sharp contrast with the positive attributes associated with innocence and beauty.



In conclusion, the analyzed poem invites readers into a contemplative realm where themes of the mind, hatred, beauty, and tradition intermingle. The poet navigates the complexities of intellectual animosity, emphasizing the delicate balance between external allure and inner virtues. 

Themes of innocence and wisdom unfold, portraying the soul's resilience and its capacity to find contentment independently of external turmoil. The poem concludes with a resonant acknowledgment of the enduring role of custom and ceremony in preserving positive qualities, adding depth to its thematic exploration. This nuanced analysis has sought to unravel the layers of insight within the verses, offering a comprehensive understanding of the poem's rich tapestry.


What is the significance of intellectual hatred in the poem?

The poem highlights intellectual or ideological hatred as particularly detrimental. The speaker advises against viewing opinions as accursed to avoid falling into the trap of intellectual animosity.

How does the poem explore the relationship between physical beauty and inner qualities?

The poem presents a scenario where a woman compromises her blessings and abundance for possessing an opinionated mind. This prompts contemplation on the true nature of beauty and its connection with internal attributes.

What is the role of custom and ceremony in the poem?

The concluding lines emphasize the importance of custom and ceremony in preserving innocence and beauty. The poem suggests that these traditions play a crucial role in nurturing positive qualities.

How does the poem portray the soul's capacity for contentment?

The poem underscores the soul's ability to find self-delight and contentment independently of external circumstances, especially once freed from the shackles of hatred.



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