Analysis of “The Wild Swans at Coole”- W.B. Yeats


“The Wild Swans at Coole”- W.B. Yeats

THE trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty 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.
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.

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?

Rhymes and Meter

The Poem  The Wild Swans at Coole  consists of five six-line stanzas rhymed abcbdd. The meter is iambic, but loosened to accommodate the irregular cadences of speech. Odd-numbered lines have four stressed syllables, even-numbered lines three.  It is well-suited to the poem’s reflective tone and melancholy mood.  


The setting for the poem is Coole Park in the Republic of Ireland, the estate of the poet's friend and patron Lady Augusta Gregory. Yeats puts a great deal of energy into describing this landscape because it is to supply him with the backdrop for the emotional action of the poem: both literally and metaphorically, the time of year is 'autumn' (the season of decay) and the time of day is 'twilight' (the hour of decline).  This poem discusses the fall of life; this is paralleled in the setting. In autumn life is on the descent, the trees begin to lose their leaves and the coming cold mirrors death. The lively swans’ movements stand out against the still setting. They represent love, permanency and serenity. This poem discusses the fall of life; this is paralleled in the setting. In autumn life is on the descent, the trees begin to lose their leaves and the coming cold mirrors death. The lively swans’ movements stand out against the still setting. They represent love, permanency and serenity. 

59 Swans

The real message in this poem is the words "nine and fifty." Since swans mate for life, the missing represents something metaphorically.  It represents something missing in Yeast’s life. It could be the love of a women or the chance for love that has long since gone.  Swans are elegant and graceful creatures, symbols of love. There are an odd number of swans, fifty-nine; implying one has lost a mate. This loneliness of desertion is again seen in the last line of the poem- 'I awake someday to find they have flown away.' This is also significant because he later refers to the swans as couples in the third stanza, "Unwearied still, lover by lover," meaning that one swan must be alone, missing a companion. This might be Yeats' way of including himself and his rejection in the poem.

The swans represent permanence or immortality. Their passion, energy, desire for success and beauty will last. They as a species will outlast the poet. Their hearts remain young. The passing of time does not cause the swans to fade.


This poem is about aging and is almost autobiographical. Autumn and twilight parallel in that they both represent aging and getting older, even they lead up to death. The water in the lake represents life. The swans can be seen as a metaphor for himself. He contrasts the swans as a species with himself as an individual.  As a species the swans will live on after he dies. Their beauty will remain. He by contrast, is aging and fading. He will eventually die.Yeats recognizes that he is no longer young, no longer entitled   the optimism of young.   For this reason, there is an ironic contrast between the vigour of the fifty-nine swans wheeling into the air and the enervated condition of the poet who 'at twilight' [= in his mid-fifties] is stranded 'on this shore' listening to the vibrant 'bell-beat of their wings'.  


In the poem The Wild Swans at Coole  Yeats presents a sombre beauty of the autumnal landscape. The trees are leafless and the paths across the wood are dry. The Cole Lake is full of water to the brim. As there is no wind, its surface is so calm that the clear sky is reflected on it.

19 Years

Nineteen years ago when the poet first visited the lake one day at twilight of autumn, he saw the swans fly through the air in small circles lover by lover. When they flew away above his head joyously, the whole air was filled with the music of their wings. All this made him happy and content. But now he has grown old in body and soul. He feels bitter and sad at the fact that he now cannot enjoy the sight as he had done in his youth.  It means time keeps moving foreword since his first visit to Coole Park. The narrator reflects on the changes in his life as a result of his growing age. He knows that some day he will dye, but the swans will live on. The thought of death establishes a somber and pensive tone. The poem runs on the contrast between the change which has come over the poet, and the wild spirits of the swans which has denied the effects of time. In one sense, the swans stand for life-force: there hearts have not grown old, and they find the stream companionable despite its coldness. In another sense, they stand for the union of time and the timeless. The swans remind the poet of his former freshness and his youth and make him despondent.
 Standing on the shore of the Coole Lake after a gap of nineteen years the poet feels that unlike himself, the swans have not grown old in body and spirit. Full of youthful vigour they can enjoy paddling through the cold water and winning the hearts of their beloved and mating with them.    
As darkness looms large over the surface of the Coole Lake, it seems to the poet that the swans, as if, belong to a different world different from the humans, a world not marked by mutability.


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