The Wild Swans At Coole: by W. B. Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza I

      It being autumn, the trees have a peculiar beauty about them and the paths in the woods are dry. The water as a result of the October twilight falling upon it reflects a sky which is exceptionally still and calm. Among the stones there is water brimming and upon that brimming water, fifty-nine swans are to be seen.

Stanza II

      This is the nineteenth autumn since he (the poet) first saw them in this posture and first made his count. In other words the poet is now nineteen years older than when he was first impressed by this sight. Before the poet had finished counting all of them suddenly rose as one, their wings producing a lot of noise and they all dispersed, wheeling in great broken ring i.e., flying in a way which followed the pattern of broken rings.

Stanza III

      I am now sore and feel sad for the loss which I have suffered since then. From the time I first looked upon these brilliant creatures all has changed. At that time (before all this changed). I was able to walk with a light tread (I was not sore then) when I heard the hell beat of their wings above my head the first time on this shore. Since I first saw them on this shore, things have changed considerably.

Stanza IV

      With me things have changed substantially but not so with them. They are still unwearied. They still are able to climb into the air in pairs, lover by lover, or paddle in the cold streams which to them are very companionable. In sharp contrast to the change which has come over me (the poet says) their hearts have not grown old and wherever they wander according to their own sweet will, passion and conquest still attend upon them.

Stanza V

      Just now they are drifting on the still, untroubled water and while doing so they look very mysterious and beautiful. But the question uppermost in mind is as to where will they go and where will they delight men’s eyes by building by the side of some lake or some pool among the rushes (rushes are plants on their stems or leaves growing in wet ground) after they have flown away. This will be discovered by men suddenly when I wake up some day.

Critical Comments

      These lines are a good example of Yeats’s versatility in that he could handle and describe natural beauty as effectively as he was able to handle themes of love, politics, anarchy and matters of the spirit. These lines remain among the best example in modem poetry of the description of natural beauty.

Critical Analysis


      The Wild Swans at Coole is incorporated in the volume of the poems entitled The Wild Swans at Coole which was published in 1919. It is a beautiful poem which revolves around the contrast between the change of advancing years have brought upon the poet and the wild spirit of the swans which had defied the effects of time. The old poet is staring at the familiar spectacle of fifty-nine swan moving together in loving pairs flying upon noisy wings; and thinking of the change, time has brought over him. The birds of course are untouched by time. They almost give rise to an illusion of immortality. In some ways they also foreshadow the structure of eternity as Yeats saw it.

      The sense of mystery and beauty which the swans evoke in the poet, make the poem Wordsworthian and remind one of Wordsworth’s poems, The Daffodils. The poem is also remarkable for its expression of the sense of loss which results from the poet no longer having passion at his command.

Development of Thought

      The First Stanza gives us a good description of nature as it manifests itself in the beauty of autumn. Amid the beauty of trees, sky and water the poet sees fifty-nine swans.

      In the Second Stanza, the poet says that nineteen years have passed since he first saw the sight and then they had scattered away. In the Third Stanza, the poet says that the thought of the change that has come over him since then makes him sore. At that time he was able to walk more lightly.

      In the Fourth Stanza, the poet stresses the point that these swans have not been affected by him. Their hearts have not grown old. Their love making has not been affected. Passion and conquest are still very much with them.

      The Fifth and Last Stanza raises the poet’s curiosity as to where these swans will make their abode next when he will awake later.


      In terms of style, The Wild Swans at Coole is almost classical in its smoothness and lucidity. The poem presents us with an image of personal dejection that uses the permanent glory of the swans to stress the transience of human beings. The directness and economy of the poem’s phrasing is remarkable. The poem vividly presents a mood dominated by the awareness that all has changed. This makes the poem more than a mere summary of presented facts. We are in the presence of a mind reflecting nature and then reflecting what it reflects.

Critical Opinion

      In his book W.B. Yeats: A Critical Introduction, B. Rajan says about The Wild Swan at Coole: “In one sense they (the swans) stand for the life-force; their hearts do not grow old; they find the stream companionable despite the cold; passion and conquest attend them unsought and their vigor is such that they climb the air instead of flying through it. In another sense the swans stand for the union of time and the timeless. In a third sense they stand for inspiration, building by the lake’s edge where the wind blows among the reeds. The poet awakes to the reality to find them gone, but perhaps the dream which they inhabit remains at his calling and perhaps the sources of life lie in the dream of poetry.”

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