NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: MIND AGAINST BODY IN “SAILING TO BYZANTIUM”

HOKKU

Today I would like to discuss one of the “fantasy” poems by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats — Sailing to Byzantium.

To grasp the meaning of this poem one must know two things: first, the speaker is a man who has grown old; second, he is dealing with the inner conflict that old people often have.  Their minds — their sense of self — feel to them no different than when they were young, but when they look in the mirror, the body of course is very different.  So in this poem the poet thinks, “Why not give this mind a body that does not age, an artificial body?”  Of course it is a concept that has occurred to many science fiction writers, but Yeats approaches the problem in a way that is not quite so modern in its technology, as we shall see.  I will take the…

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