‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ is a poem by W.B. Yeats once again lamenting due to his loneliness. It consists of 5 regular stanzas, with a regular rhyme scheme of ABCBDD. The couplet at the end seems odd when read, as the rhyme appears to be too early. This change in rhyme emphasises the changes in Yeats’ life. The voice of the poem is Yeats himself as he walks in the autumn to Coole park to observe the swans and reflect on the changes that have happened in his life since he was last there.
There is a lot of cold pastoral language in this poem, which gives it a natural feel, “autumn beauty”. Some of these phrases give the poem a cold feel, “Under the October twilight the water/Mirrors a still sky”. One of the phrases, “companionable streams” makes the reader think of companionship, and the relationship that the swans have with their home, the stream. The use of the word “companionable” makes the stream seem homely and welcoming, which contrasts with the rest of the poem. This could be to show how the swans feel about life in comparison to how Yeats feels.
Change is most definitely one of the main themes of this poem. Yeats is in Coole Park in the “autumn”, a time at which the leaves are changing colour. Yeats says that he counts the swans, and that the last time he had done this was nineteen years ago, “The nineteenth autumn has come upon me/Since I first made my count;”. Many things changed in the world in these 19 years, WW1 occurred, and closer to Yeats’ heart, the Irish Civil War. As well as this Yeats was realising that Maud Gonne would never love him. The idea of change is also presented with the idea of “wheeling in great broken rings” which makes the reader think of the ideas of gyres and the circle of life. The “rings” show change as they turn but are not complete. The word “broken” is ambiguous, and could mean a broken heart, a broken Ireland, or even broken attitudes.
In contrast to Yeats’ life, Yeats observes that the swans have not changed, they still “paddle in the cold”. Unlike Yeats, “their hearts have not grown old” and the way Yeats writes this makes him sound almost jealous of the swans, almost bitter. The phrase “lover by lover” shows how the swans have companionship with each other, and Yeats may even be jealous of this fact. However Yeats’ loneliness is reflected in the phrase “nine-and-fifty swans”. The odd phrasing of this (most people would simply say fifty-nine) emphasises how one of these swans will be alone, just like Yeats.
The last lines, “when I awake some day/To find they have flown away”, makes Yeats sound as if he has a sense of longing to go with the swans. This coupled with some of the lines earlier, may even make the reader feel that Yeats wants to be a swan, or whatever he feels the swan represents. Yeats wants to live life carefree, and move “lover by lover”, full of companionship, and yet this isn’t the case. The line shows there’s nothing left in Yeats’ life, and his diminished self and faded dreams. The swans could be parallel to Gonne, as she has left Yeats too, and Yeats doesn’t want that to happen again.
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