“Sailing to Byzantium” by Yeats describes the speaker’s search for meaning after death, inspired by the speaker becoming aware of his own fading mortality. “Byzantium” itself is interpreted as an otherworldly utopia where art, intellectualism, and spirituality endure eternally, so the singers should take great care to interpret the text and phrasings with an almost religious reverence. Additionally, the singers should recognize and appropriately shape moments where the speaker becomes consumed in his own thoughts, such as when the looming horizon of “eternity” engulfs and overwhelms the speaker, blending the speaker’s consciousness with glimpses of what “Byzantium” may be. Overall, this piece provides an opportunity for the audience to ponder their own mortality and purpose.
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 holy 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.