“Yeats's poetry continues to engage readers through its poetic treatment of conflict and beauty.'
In the light of your critical study, does this statement resonate with your own interpretation of Yeats's poetry?”
Yeats’ poetry dwells on a convergence of opposites, engaging with the universal concerns of beauty and conflict and thus resonates with readers regardless of time and background. This is portrayed through the poems The Wild Swans at Coole and The Second Coming. The former retains its universality with a contrast between the existential turmoil of humanity and the beauty of the natural world whilst the latter demonstrates an elimination of beauty through conflict. Consequently, the binary opposites manifested in Yeats’ poetry imposes on readers the ability to extrapolate from this ambiguity their own interpretation of meaning upon the grounds of modernity.
The conflict of mortality underlining human existence is juxtaposed against the apparent permanence of the swans in The Wild Swans at Coole. The contrast between a changing humanity and the perpetual splendor of the swans is shown through Yeats recollection of the viewing the swans for the previous “nineteen autumns”. Despite beauty of the “brilliant creatures”, age and sorrow no longer allows him to be delighted, shown through “all’s changed since…”, evoking a sense of disappointment. The transition symbol of the setting of the “Autumn beauty” connotes not only a time of seasonal change but also the decline of life, qualified further through ‘dry,’ enforcing the notion of barren sexuality, thus resonating with the universal human obsession with age and youth. The inner conflict of the persona is further exemplified through his conscious counting of “nine and fifty swans”, expressing his isolation, with the odd figure symbolizing one swan will always be without partner. Alternatively, the swans have choice of “passion or conquest”, a prerogative of youth, giving their unchanging state despite the passing of nineteen autumns. The suggestive foreshadowing of “awake someday and find they have flown away?”, however, emphasises on a balance between beauty and mortality and that the vision of the unchanging nature of the swans is illusory, thus providing closure to the readers, allowing them to come to acceptance of their impermanence.
In addition, The Wild Swans at Coole engages the readers with the contrast of human conflicting turmoil, part of the universal human experience, against the beauty of nature. The pure, untainted nature of the natural world is represented through the tranquil imagery of the “water mirrors a still sky”, evoking a sense of calmness through the soothing “s” sound. The carefree swans as they “drift on still water” gives an artistic quality to Yeats’ portrayal of nature. This is immediately juxtaposed against the “sore” persona who has been affected by the pain of age whilst nature has remained unchanged. Similarly, the swans that “paddle in the cold, companionable streams” presents an alliterated oxymoron that deals with the universal fear of loneliness. This is further emphasised by the ‘bell-beat of their wings above my head,’ incorporating religious connotations that allude to a funeral setting, where the following line of “lighter tread” indicates an absence of guests upon the occasion and thus showcases Yeats’ longing for human connection to end his inner turmoil. Consequently, the comparison between the conflicted humanity and the eternally beautiful swans, Yeats deals with the timeless issue of human isolation.
Yeats continues to engage his readers in the demonstration of the elimination of beauty due to conflict upon the dawn of modernity in The Second Coming. The breakdown of society as a result of WWI during Yeats’ lifetime is captured in falcon imagery where the “falcon cannot hear the falconer” symbolize a loss of social control with humanity drifting away from God. The use of a foreboding tone, “vast image of spiritus…