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Themes in The Wild Swans at Coole

Themes Examples in The Wild Swans at Coole:

The Wild Swans at Coole

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"flown away?..."   (The Wild Swans at Coole)

The swans have been touted as a symbol of permanence or timelessness throughout this poem, retaining their youth and passion while the speaker grows old and tired. However, this rhetorical question acknowledges that these swans are not separate from the events of life, and they too will at some point migrate and move on to a different place to delight the eyes of different people. To end on this note is to further the emphasize the inevitably of change, growth, and death.

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

Once again the water is described as still; although this time, the speaker is aware that this stillness is only momentary. In this context, this image is one of transient beauty, emphasized by the adverb “now” to draw attention to the ephemeral nature of the present moment. The repetition of still with the previous line suggests a double meaning that encompasses both stillness as a lack of motion and stillness as a continuation of the same. This is relevant to the central concern of the poem as the speaker views the swans as being from another world compared to himself since they are able to continue acting in youthful vigor while he is doomed to grow old and weary.

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

The reference to the swans’ hearts here directly contrasts to the previous reference to the speaker’s own heart as “sore.” He is burdened with age and an awareness of mortality; the swans appear youthful, active, and “unwearied.” These descriptions serve to draw a divisive line between the speaker and the swans, as the speaker envies their companionship and everlasting youth. The tone created here is one of painful longing, as the speaker acknowledges both the beauty and the seemingly eternal nature of the creatures.

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

The verb “to tread” means “to walk.” Here, the speaker describes the lighter walk of his younger days, signaling how he was more carefree and less weighed down with the worries of time. Now, the speaker’s heart is “sore” as if he physically feels the ache of age and experience in a way not felt in his youth. Once again, this description further emphasizes his envy of the swans whose freedom and youthful joy are quite literally manifest in their ability to fly into the air.

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

The verb “mount” here may be construed in two ways: first, as a mode of flight, with the swans “mounting” the air as they ascend upwards. Secondly, mount also has sexual connotations, which perhaps further increases the speaker’s sense of envy. While this stanza describes the swans as capable of great passion and liveliness, the speaker is merely a lone spectator, one painfully aware that he has entered the dwindling stages of later life. In either reading, both uses of the verb point to the “wild” of the poem’s title, further demonstrating the unsurmountable division between human and animal, restrained and free.

"in great broken rings..."   (The Wild Swans at Coole)

The image of the swans flying off in “great broken rings” gets at the heart of the poem’s theme. The speaker has seen the swans at Coole each autumn for nineteen years in a row, an annual cycle. At the poem’s end, the speaker expresses fear for the day the swans will be gone. The breaking of this cycle is foreshadowed by the metaphor of the broken ring.

"Upon the brimming water among the stones..."   (The Wild Swans at Coole)

Yeats employs an interesting metrical scheme. In each stanza, the first four lines follow a pattern of alternating tetrameter and trimeter—four beats and three beats—a classic song-like scheme. The fifth line, however, is in pentameter, a five-beat line. This causes a noticeable pause before the stanza ends in a line of familiar trimeter. The pause is fitting with one of the the poem’s themes: the desire to stop and appreciate the world while there is still time, before the swans fly away.

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