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Old Age, Desire, and Imagination: Reading Three Poems in The Tower

Yoon Jung Mook

Abstract

The Tower, published in 1928, is Yeats's finest single volume of poetry, and itmight also be the finest single book of poems published in the twentieth century(O'Donnell 89). Many poems of the volume confront the problems of growing old.This paper attempts to read three poems selected from The Tower--"Sailing toByzantium," "The Tower," and "Among School Children"--in terms of theirrepresentations of old age and its relation to desire and the imagination.
In "Sailing to Byzantium," the poet begins by declaring that Ireland is "nocountry for old men." He complains that here all are "caught in that sensual music"and "neglect monuments of unageing intellect." "The Tower" also begins with thepoet's confused question: "What shall I do with this absurdity . . . this caricature,decrepit age?" He complains about his old age because it makes his body "a sort ofbattered kettle at the heel," and that body can deride his imagination and its work.The poet's complaint or anxiety about old age in these poems comes from the factthat his old age and bodily decrepitude make it hard to satisfy his desire. In"Sailing to Byzantium," lack of satisfaction makes him unhappy in Ireland and wishto leave. Also in "The Tower," unsatisfied desire makes his heart "troubled," and sohe is even tempted to give up poetry and choose philosophy.
However, ironically enough, unsatisfied desire makes his imagination strongerthan ever. Now, in spite of his bodily decrepitude, his imagination enables him totravel to the "holy city" of Byzantium, and there pray to the sages there that hemay be changed into a golden bird, "an artifice of eternity." In "The Tower," thepoet sends his imagination forth and calls "images and memories" to ask questionsof them. In the process of calling images and asking questions, the poet restores his belief in the power of the imagination, and, because of this belief, he can leave his"pride" and "faith" as poet to the "young upstanding men" of Ireland.
"Among School Children" confronts the problem of physical ageing a littledifferently. The poem shows the poet walking through the schoolroom and dreamingof "a Ledaean body" (Maud Gonne). His imagining her as a child and then thinkingof "her present image" leads to the meditation not only on the general human fateof ageing but also on the images which "break hearts" because they do not touchthe reality of life. Not only the passage of time but also the false images makehuman life exhausted and unhappy. To solve the problem, the poet's imaginationcreates two images of unified being: the "blossoming" tree and the "dancing" body.Where life is blossoming or dancing, the poet says, "The body is not bruised topleasure soul." What he is trying to say is that life is an ongoing process, and sowe must accept it as it really is.

늙음, 욕망, 그리고 상상력 ?『탑』의 세 작품을 중심으로

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