Class 12 English Kaleidoscope

The Wild Swans at Coole

W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats, the great Irish poet has written this poem. The poet talks about the beauty of swans in a lake. While doing so, the poet also talks about the contrasting lives of swan and people.

The trees are intheir autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Udner the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky,
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The trees are showing all the glory of the autumn season, when leaves acquire the colors of warmer hues, like red, yellow, orange and reddish brown. In this season, the paths which cross through the woodland are dry. This is the month of October and sky is stiil which is mirrored in water in the lake. Some pebbles can be seen in the lake, along with fifty nine swans. Here, the figure fifty nine shows that poet was all engrossed in activities of swans and he was so attentive that he even counted the exact number of swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count,
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.

The poet has been visiting that lake since nineteen years. On that particular day, by the time the poet could finish counting the swans, they suddenly begin to fly in the sky. They scatter to make broken rings upon their clamorous wings. The word ‘clamorous’ has been used to describe all the noise caused by flapping of so many wings. Broken rings signify something breaking down in the heart of the poet. Probably, the poet is feeling sad at departure of the swans. When the poet looks at those brilliant creatures his heart becomes sore. Being a human being, he cannot be free from gravity to fly in the sky the way swans are flying with gay abandon.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air,
Their hearts have not grown old,
Passion or conquest, wander where they will
Attend upon them still.

Since the time the poet has been observing those swans, everything has changed. The poet’s life has undergone many changes. The poet realizes that when he was young, he could walk with a spring in his steps. But as he has grown older his steps are weighed down by all the burdens of life. On the other hand, the swans still fly with a lighter tread. They are not tired rather are as fresh as ever. They are still sticking to the same lover, which means every swan is still continuing to be loyal to its original lover. No matter whether they swim in water or fly in air, they have not grown old and are still bubbling with energy of a child. Wherever they will go, passion and conquest would never leave them.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful
Among what rushes will they build
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

The poet is worried that a time may come when the swans would leave that lake forever. But he is sure that wherever they will go they will be a delight to watch. The poet fears for the day when he will find the lonely lake, without the swans.

Corfman, Allisa. "The Wild Swans at Coole by William Butler Yeats". Poem Analysis, Accessed 9 August 2022.

Uderstanding the Poem

Question 1: How do the ‘trees in their autumn beauty’, ‘dry woodland paths’, ‘October twilight’, ‘still sky’ connect to the poet’s own life?

Answer: The poet has been a regular visitor to the lake at Coole. He has seen many autmuns in his life. He must have seen the woodland paths in different hues, sometimes dry, sometimes wet, sometimes strewn with dry leaves of the fall. October is the month which comes towards the end of the year. In this poem it may have been used to signify that the narrator is past his prime in terms of age. Still sky is signifying the calm and serenity in narrator’s mind.

Question 2: What do ‘the light tread’ and the ‘the sore heart’ refer to?

Answer: Light tread means that the swans are still having the same energy level as they had nineteen years ago, when the poet first went to that lake. Sore heart means that the poet has grown old and his heart is burdened with so many responsibilities and ups and downs of life.

Question 3: What is the contrast between the liveliness of the swans and human life?

Answer: There are many contrasts between the liveliness of swans and human life. The human life is burdened by worldly affairs. A human cannot fly in air as he is held by gravity. But swans do not need to worry about from where the next meal will come, or about paying bills. So, a swan can fly in the air with all the freedom.

Question 4: What contributes to the beauty and mystery of the swans’ lives?

Answer: Sense of freedom, loyalty to partner and liveliness contribute to the beauty of swan’s lives. The mystery of their life is that nobody can be sure about their next destination or abode. They may stick to a watering hole for a long time. They may vanish from a place to find another safe heaven at their will.