Module B- Critical Study of Texts (Yeats: Wild Swans at Coole & Among School Children)
Q: Great texts take the pain of existence and try to make sense of it
Yeats poetry effectively communicates potent and universal ideas, which continue to make his poetry of relevance to today. His excellence in artistic expression enables him to intertwine his own ideas and philosophies and contextual issues, and allowing us as responders to broaden our understanding and perspectives on life. It is affirmative that great texts such as “Wild Swans at Coole” and “Among School Children” take the pain of existence and try to make sense of it. Both texts thoroughly examine the transcendental tensions between the purpose of life and the eventual decline of physical and spiritual aging through self- reflection and retrospection.
Yates intense preoccupation with aging is clearly evident in “Wild Swans at Coole”. In the period in which it was written, Yeats was a middle-aged man, genuinely “sore”-hearted, genuinely capable of reflecting maturely, seriously and without melodrama, on the passage of time. The poem presents to its audience a mournful feel about loss and change and focuses on Yeats favourite images, the swan. It is metaphorically apparent throughout that Yeats morphs the swans into permanent embodiments of feeling and inspiration. In other words, the transience of life, that human were destined to born and die. He refuses to be a prisoner of time and unwillingly ‘rejects’ the cycle of life. A sense of vulnerability surfaces when Yeats realises the natural and uncontrolled state of the swans and nature itself and he is unable to take control of. In relation, the swans look eternally youthful, making it unable to differentiate them whereas in stark contrast, aging is evident in humans. “All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight for the first time on this shore” when I “trod with a lighter tread” refers back to the childlike state of Yeats with the desperate longing for it again. The poet constant temporal references in Stanza 1, with reference to the words “autumn”, “October” and “twilight” suggests the arrival of death and decay, the time of passing and diminishing life. These words, in common relate to the approaching and awareness of the end, accentuating the idea of the passing of time. Moreover, the lack of love in Yeat’s life that makes the harshness of growing old more apparent whereas the coupled swans, ‘lover by lover’ are paired, enhancing the challenges of growing old associated with the pain of existence.
Alike wild swans, Among School Children embodies Yeats ongoing struggle between age and transcendence Being among school children, Yeats confronts human frailty, reflecting on the impact and worth of his life. Frightened by the inevitability of death, he initially chooses to wear a mask of acceptance and reconciliation, while he struggles internally-agonized by the value of life itself. By comparing with Maud Gonne’s current appearance to her appearance in youth “And wonder if she stood so at that age”, he realizes time’s toll on the physical being. After finally understanding the mortal implications of humanity, Yeats searches desperately for any possible way to subvert his certain death. He reminisces the immense love and relation he shared with Maud Gonne and metaphorically depicts their relationship to an egg “Into the yolk and white of the one shell” for they felt like they were one, indicating a sense of belonging with one another. The poet then continues about how legends such as Aristotle and Pythagoras whom were able to achieve great things in life but are still the victim of transcendence. Through an intense examination, Yeats realizes the necessity of a peaceful, self-honest existence and challenges the pain of it.
The swan is used by Yeats as a focal symbol- variously used as a symbol for the artist’s pride, the idea of solitude in the face of death and approaching night, wildness, rage and unsatisfied desire, but mainly the idea of a union between perfect beauty and divine strength-passion and conquest. Besides being an intricate symbol of youth, Yeats seems to observe the changelessness of their pattern, the perfect pattern of art which preserves youth in the “artiface of eternity”. He explicitly exemplifies his work to resemble a piece of art, in which purpose is to capture and preserve the moment, which in this scenario is the moment of reminiscing the enticing view of the imperial swans. Art also offers individuals a sense of consolation and reassurance. The poet knows his position in society and unwillingly regards the unchangeable fact that he like other humans must face death. In order to be remembered, he utilises art to “live on”, that although he has passed on, his works will be embedded in the hearts of many and regarded as a symbol of aspiration and will never perish.
Among School Children on the other hand reflects an intense concern with the process of growing old with its associated notions of decay and the looming threat of death on both a physical and spiritual level. The imagery of an aged man as a ‘scarecrow’ is prominent in the fourth stanza which relates to his thoughts on aging. Yeats felt he was a scarecrow, indicating its loneliness and hollowness, presenting just a mask to the children, concealing his discontent. He then ponders the past where he and Maud Gonne were not bad looking before and made references to art, culture and philosophy and emphasises the significance of it. The poet speculates on the human relationships he has been seeing and remembering: Nuns and worship, Lovers, Mother and child, all having the tendency subjecting to idealisation. All these images inevitably break the hearts of those adoring them, and proposes the fact that our self-created idols invariably disappoint.According to Vendler, a well-known critic, that worship always disappoint to mock our efforts and refer to it as self-born deceiving solaces. She mentions that “Life is a solitary but endlessly satisfying set of inventions and this poem acknowledges the truth of universal outbreak without entirely destroying the continuity of being. While wild swans utilizes animalistic imagery, here Yeats focuses on beings of past and present to overcome the challenges of human existence.
In conclusion, Yeats has written a philosophical poem for everyone through an art form available to all that depicts a continued display of life losses through the idea of aging and the encompassed concepts of reflection that allows Yeats to overcome the pain of existence thoroughly.