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W.B. Yeats Poetry | The Wild Swans at Coole

winwoodedu | Wednesday September 21, 2011

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Context

This poem was first published in 1917 when Yeats was 52 in a collection of the same name. The setting is in Coole Park, Galway, the home of Lady Gregory. Lady Gregory was a patron and friend of Yeats and he first visited her home in 1897.

Structure

The poem has 5 stanzas each 6 lines long and is written roughly in iambic pentameter; 1st & 3rd lines = tetrameter, 2nd, 4th & 6th lines trimester, 5th line pentameter. Pattern of stresses 434353. This is very precise and links with the precision of the subject matter – events are recalled with great precision over a period of time. There is a regular rhyme scheme ABCBDD which again shows the precision of Yeats’ writing.

Stanza 1

The phrase ‘autumn beauty’ gives us the setting for the poem. The reader visualises the autumnal colours and the landscape. By using ‘beauty’ Yeats shows his attraction to the natural world and Coole Park in particular. He wrote particularly well here thanks to Lady Gregory. The phrase ‘woodland paths are dry’ again emphasises the setting. ‘October twilight’ further narrows the setting down to a particular month and time of day.

The phrase ‘the water mirrors a still sky’ gives an image of stillness. The use of a semi-colon separates the last 2 lines from the rest of the stanza. The phrase ‘brimming water’ gives a sense of fullness and fecundity; this may refer to Keats ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’; Yeats had a particular fondness for the Romantic poets. The phrase ‘nine-and-fifty swans’ gives a precise number; this shows the care taken when observing them. Also 59 is an odd number; swans mate for life so one swan has lost its mate. This may be an echo of Yeats’ loss of Maud Gonne who he saw as his soul mate – the poem was written around the time of Yeats’ marriage to Georgie with whom he had a happy marriage. So maybe he is looking back fondly on his feelings for Maud and almost saying goodbye to them....


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