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Historical Context in The Wild Swans at Coole

Historical Context Examples in The Wild Swans at Coole:

The Wild Swans at Coole

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"count..."   (The Wild Swans at Coole)

The speaker states he has returned to count the swans for nineteen autumns. The nineteen years prior to the writing of this poem would have spanned both World War I and the Irish Civil War. These were times of immense upheaval and change, which means that the speaker’s world in this poems would now be dramatically different to that of the world nineteen years prior. The speaker’s experience of the dramatic changes and suffering of these times causes him to look upon the swans with envy, as he desires to share in their youthful innocence and passion.

"nine and fifty..."   (The Wild Swans at Coole)

Fifty-nine may come across as an odd choice for a number, which may create a sense of discord or dissonance for the reader. However, since swans mate for life, with fifty-nine swans there is one swan that is alone. Yeats suffered numerous romantic rejections throughout his life, most famously at the hands of activist and actress Maud Gonne and later her daughter Iseult. The odd number here foreshadows the desertion found at the end of the poem and extends a sense of loneliness found across a number of Yeats’s poetic works.

"still..."   (The Wild Swans at Coole)

This poem was written between 1916–1917, a time when Yeats was having considerable trouble creating new poetry. The reference to stillness here, coupled with the “dry” paths of the previous line, could very well be a comment on Yeats’s own struggle to write or create during this period.

" twilight..."   (The Wild Swans at Coole)

The description of the setting as “autumn” and “twilight” uses the changing of the seasons to foreshadow the central theme of aging, change, and mortality. Autumn is often employed metaphorically to connote sentiments of decay or decline, as the life of summer gives way to the death of winter. Written at age fifty-one, after years of turmoil in both in Yeats’s personal life and in the wider political life of Ireland, this poem reflects the potential despair one may feel when contemplating the inevitable passage of time.

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