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Loss in the Wild Swans at Coole

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 835
  • Category: Poetry

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Discuss ways in which Yeats explores a sense of loss in The Wild Swans at Coole Loss is part of the persistent and perpetual cycle of life, evident in the world we graciously inhabit. It is for this reason that Yeats’ has used autumn as the setting for The Wild Swans at Coole; a season of decay and cessation. The natural imagery in use conveys a sense of stillness, dryness and emerging darkness, all of which are strongly indicative of death. By setting the scene this way, Yeats is not only introducing the theme of loss consistent throughout the poem, but in a sense providing the reader with an insight into his mind. His awareness of death is clear in his language, highlighting the desiccation of the woodland paths upon which he walks; the world around him serves as an ever-present reminder of his own mortality. Yeats is almost laughing at himself with the first stanza, which is reminiscent of his earlier works that sought understanding of the eternal; the inclusion of the poet’s voice in the second stanza results in an immediate contrast that signifies the change in Yeats as a person. The Yeats we are accompanied by is an older man, more accepting of the transient nature of life in his later years.

He describes the autumn he witnesses as beautiful, and the natural world presented to us is melancholy, even in the face of its own demise. Could this be a reflection of his frame of mind, a state of peaceful resignation? His use of regular verse form serves to emphasise the calm atmosphere that his language has created, the repetition of full rhymes results in a gentle and regular flow, which is maintained by the shorter lines that pace the reader. This calm ambience makes it clear that The Wild Swans at Coole is not a searing revelation like The Cold Heaven but rather a meditation on time and change from the perspective of a man to who change is all too familiar. But such an interpretation begs the question, is it possible to become accustomed to change? In exploring change Yeats requires a constant, something that remains unchanged and serves to remind him of his fleeting life. This is the swan, a recurring symbol in poetry that represents an idealistic view of nature and even relationships; the creature is by its nature half of a whole, requiring a lifelong partner to perpetuate its bloodline.

It’s clear why they have become emblematic for grand romantic gestures and enduring affection, Humans can relate to them as their courting behaviour is not unlike our own. He admires the beauty of these ‘brilliant creatures’, they still appear eternally beautiful in contrast to the ageing Yeats who admits he once ‘trod with a lighter tread’. The immutability of the beauty that resides within the Swan is almost overwhelming, to the point where the poet’s own heart becomes sore. Is this Yeats proposing that suffering is infact part of the experience of beauty? We find Yeats trying to make sense of the suffering in his own life and its effect on his perception of the world. The temporality of his own existence is tormenting him, especially in the face of the seemingly eternal swans; but in trying to make sense of his own life Yeats may have made a greater observation on beauty as a whole, perhaps it is not something that is eternal. The concept of beauty is not in itself beautiful, it is when the temporal and eternal combine that true beauty is formed, as presented to us in the form of the swan. Whether Yeats finds solace in this revelation or not is debatable, would his appreciation of beauty be the same were it not for the loss he experienced?

The representation of the swan we find here heavily contrasts the poets later use of the animal in Leda & The Swan, perhaps it was his familiarity with the creature that allowed him to manipulate poetic convention so effectively, transforming a well-known symbol that inspires idealism and beauty into a violent and monstrous force (a move that reveals his transformation into a writer of literary modernism). We are not designed to be alone; it is entirely against human nature to spend our lives in solitude. Survival as a race is dependent on our ability to find a companion and reproduce, much like the swan. But in a more personal sense we have certain needs as human beings that can only be fulfilled by engaging and interacting with other people. Then why is it that unlike our fellow inhabitant the swan we find it so difficult to find a partner and maintain a relationship? The journey is often turbulent and utterly life-consuming; and in the end we don’t all arrive victorious. It’s easy to find yourself speculating on what was and what could have been, because loss and suffering are as unfortunate and inevitable as our desire for companionship.

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