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The Wild Swans at Coole by W. B. Yeats - Book Report/Review Example

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In The Swans at Coole, Yeats is preoccupied with change and how this change is related to the passing of time. There is an initial sense of comfort, both observed and indulged, in the consistency of the autumn and its characteristic features; this is soon thereafter supplanted by a disorienting shift in expectations as the swans take flight unexpectedly and thereafter wheel almost aimlessly before flying away…
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The Wild Swans at Coole by W. B. Yeats
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Download file to see previous pages The poem conveys, in short, a deeply felt recognition that our notion of self is never certain and always subject to reexamination. This essay will argue, in effect, that the initial lines of the poem exhibit the self's dependence on the past for security, that our notion of the self may often be wrong, and that our self-identity is dependent on time.
As a preliminary matter, the poem begins harmoniously. Yeats does not simply describe the setting as one might observe it; quite the contrary, he describes his setting as it has always been, as it is during his observance, and as it is consistent with his prior experiences. More specifically, he describes the trees as being in "their autumn beauty" (Yeats: 1) rather than being beautiful. The implication is that the trees, like the natural surroundings, do not change from year to year or from season to season. Nature is persistent and predictable and there is a sort of security in this consistency. In addition, he fifty-nine swans are present for the nineteenth autumn (Yeats: 6-7). The swans, like the trees, are habitually and seemingly attached to the setting. In terms of self, Yeats is comfortable and confidant; this is because present realities conform precisely to his expectations. His notion of self is thus stable and secure.
What follows is abrupt and quite unexpected; more particularly, as Yeats is counting the swans at his leisure, they "all suddenly mount and scatter wheeling in great broken rings" (Yeats: 10-11). The feeling of security is unsettled, the harmonious relationship between the poet and his setting is upset, and there is a very real feeling of confusion. Expectations founded on nineteen years have been proven fallible; more precisely, Yeats highlights this confusion by describing the mount of the swans as sudden, by describing their formation as scattered, and by describing what ought to be fairly symmetrical rings as being broken. One may infer that what is broken, and thereby causing the confusion, is the author's prior notion of self rather than the natural surroundings which he is describing. A belief system is broken, a view of the world, and the flight away by the swans is recognition that time changes perspectives.
Finally, Yeats offers the suggestion that it is he whom has changed rather than the swans or the trees. He describes the swans as being "unwearied still" (Yeats: 19) as they fly away, he describes his heart as the one which has grown old (Yeats: 22), and he acknowledges that his understanding of himself and the world is imperfect and perhaps affected by the passing of time more than he had initially expected; to be sure, he expresses his confusion explicitly when he writes that he will not "awake until one day" (Yeats: 29). He connects this awakening, this rediscovery of self, to the realization that the swans have, in fact flown away. This flying away of the swans is akin to the passing of time, the aging of man, and the transient role that humans experience in a dynamic world. Yeats has grown older, and he laments the loss of confidence in certain expectations.
In the final analysis, this poem is concerned with a man's shattered expectations and the sorrow that attends the loss of consistency and expected outcomes. Yeats is simply sharing with us the ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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