Does “Sailing to Byzantium” Embrace or Reject Religion?

One major characteristic of modernism is the loss of religious faith. The poem “Sailing to Byzantium” by Yeats does not embrace region but rather advocates for a new spirituality to people. From the opening lines of the poem, Yeats suggests introducing his newly acquired mysticism to save people of Ireland from the wrong path they have taken to salvation. From the poem, he mentions other three poets whom all made significant ant contribution to Irish Renaissance as those who will aid him in sharing his passion from spiritualism.

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In the poem, Yeats deviates from the conventional religious believes in his search for the path to freedom from the melees of reality. He restructures traditional Christian symbols and assigning them new significance in his voyage as he dismisses the orthodox as materialistic and self-congratulatory. Yeats scorns Christianity for their obsession with materialism, such that instead of the church teaching souls to ‘sing,’ they only teach an obsession with idolatry. The author also denounces the creation theory as extolled by these orthodox theologies. He says, ‘O sage standing in God’s holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre…And fastened to a dying animal’ (Yeats). Yeats compares the holy fire to golden mosaics which were common in Byzantium. He asks the ‘sages’ for guidance which shows wavering faith in religion.

Yeats does not embrace religion in his poetry as he diverts from his religious background to seek a new form of spirituality that does not limit his imagination. He, however, believes in life after death but disagrees with religion on various aspects such as an obsession with material objects rather than the souls who need spiritual nourishment. Yeats does not believe in organized religion arguing that it limits individual freedom and as such, everyone should embark on a personal journey of spiritual exploration. This is depicted when Yeats states that his body is a ‘dying animal’ that chokes his spirit instead of linking him to a ‘real’ world (Yeats). Yeats believed that in an attempt to venture into the spiritual world of poetry, one must disengage from the confinement of organized religion and remain open to the exploration of various unconventional spiritual possibilities.


Works Cited

Yeates, W. B. Sailing to Byzantium. London: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1989. print.