That is no country for old men. The young
in one another’s arms, birds in the trees –
Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the fire, perne in a gyre
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
I start from the fact that the study of poetry, i.e., texts in verse unaccompanied by music, is a compulsory element in a compulsory subject in our compulsory education system.
(1a) I argue that poetry as defined above is of interest only to a minority, so that, to justify its inclusion in a compulsory syllabus, a poem should have something meaningful to say, i.e., some summarizable content, that everyone, even those who have no interest in poetry, could reasonably be required to study.
(1b) In this I am opposed by advocates of the aesthetic ideology who claim that “A poem should not mean,/ But be” (Archibald Macleish), i.e., that it should be valued for its form rather than its content.
(2a) I argue that, if the study of poetry is to be compulsory, then “Sailing To Byzantium”, by W.B.Yeats, should be included in the syllabus because it gives profound intuitive access, through its vivid dramatization, to the ideas of “God”, “Soul” and “Eternity”, which are necessary to any adequate understanding of personal existence.
(2b) I am opposed in this by atheists who claim that the universe was not intentionally created, so that “God”, supposedly the intentional creator of the universe, doesn’t exist; also that consciousness is a function of the brain, so the “soul” can’t exist since it represents consciousness as something distinct from the brain; and that “eternity” can’t exist since it implies the continuation of consciousness after the death of the brain; and therefore that no one could reasonably be required to give their attention to the ideas of God, Soul and Eternity.
(3a) I argue that the Speechworld, – constituted by commitments between speakers implied by their speaking, – can be understood as “God”, i.e., as the intentional creator of souls (though not of the universe), and, between souls, of relations which are logically necessary and therefore eternal, i.e., true at all times and in all possible universes, – but that this does not entail post-mortem consciousness.
(3b) I am opposed in this by traditional theists for whom “God” is the intentional creator not only of souls with post-mortem consciousness, but also of the universe.
My aims are, firstly, to sketch a vision within which it would make sense to require everyone to know this poem, and secondly, to provide those who love this poem with an opportunity to celebrate it.”