The Wild Swans at Coole

The poem was written while Yeats was staying with his friend, Lady Gregory, at her home in Coole Park. She was the mother of Robert Gregory about whom the poems "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" and "In Memory of Major Robert Gregory" were written. The poem was published during the "middle stage" of Yeats' writing which was concerned with such themes as Irish nationalism. It was published in a collection of his poems called "The Wild Swans at Coole" in 1919.

  • Voice – first person narration

  • Regular stanza, five 6 line stanzas in a roughly iambic metre

  • 1st & 3rd lines in tetrameter

  • 2nd, 4th & 6th in trimeter

  • 5th in pentameter


  • The poem deals with the passage of time "The nineteenth autumn has come upon me" it has been a number of years since he first saw the swans at Coole Park and we can see through the mood created by word choice such as "sudden" and "clamorous" ,which have connotations of upheaval and change, which contrast with the swans. Here the poet is referring to the recent conflicts of the First World War and the Irish Civil War in which hundreds of young people died, including Robert Gregory. These conflicts seem to loom over the poem and contrast with the plaintive tone and the imagery of the swans which are peaceful. It also adds to the heartache of the poem, living through it all and everyone else dying.

  • The symbolism of the swans in the poem is at odds with the voice of the poem whose tone seems to be in pain from the recent conflicts. The timelessness of the swans is shown by "Unwearied still". The swans symbolise the optimism and vigour of life, despite being old when most people have grown tired of life they still feel passion, contrasting to the pessimistic aspect of life which is always in the background of the poem. The structure of the poem emphasises certain parts of the poem such as "Companionable streams or climb the air; / Their hearts have not grown old;" the careful construction of the poem such as regular stanza of the poem, in a rough iambic metre, allows heartfelt lines such as "Their hearts . . ." to be uttered softly and the long silence created after has the effect of making it linger on in the reader's mind and intensify the emotion in it.

  • The sounds used in the poem also help create the solemn tone of the poem, it is often repeated as well like "lover by lover", these liquid sounds are soft and slow, going at a pace akin to a funeral procession. Other sounds in the poem are also slow and soft such as "e" and "u" as in "The trees are in their autumn beauty," The sounds of the poem are effective as the softness added to the poem as a whole helps the reader to appreciate the solemnity and heartache of it which adds to the atmosphere of loss and melancholy.

    • The end of the poem leaves the reader with a sense that the poet feels he has been left behind in a world now empty and the only thing he can do is accept it, "when I wake some day/ To find they have flown away?" This is useful in demonstrating the idea of loss that the poet feels after so many men have died in the First World War and Irish Civil War, including his friend Major Robert Gregory, a loss he feels acutely and can be seen in the poems about him. The tone of the poem also demonstrates to the reader that the poet feels he has let it all slip away from him, and by this point in 1919 he is getting older. The sad and melancholic tone in the poem is created by the use of sound and rhythm in the poem, managed by the use of "s" and "l" repeated throughout.