Places: The Tower

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1927, as poem; collected in The Tower, 1928

Type of work: Poetry

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Byzantium

*Byzantium. Tower, TheCapital city of the Byzantine Empire and Holy City of Eastern Christianity; renamed Constantinople in the fourth century and now called Istanbul. For William Butler Yeats, Byzantium represents the origins of artistic endeavor and functions as a link to the great achievements of classical civilizations. Yeats presents it as a symbolic home for the creative imagination and as a refuge from the responsibilities of his public persona.

Conversely, without naming it as Ireland, Yeats sets “Byzantium” in contrast to a land he calls “no country for old men.” This version of the contemporary world is marked by its teeming fertility, populated by “fish, flesh, or fowl” driven by “sensual music,” and is an uncomfortable domain for “an aged man,” as the poet characterizes himself.

*Ben Bulben (Benbulbin)

*Ben Bulben (Benbulbin). Mountain rising above Yeats’s home in County Sligo, where, in “Under Ben Bulben,” from his Last Poems, he depicted the setting of his gravestone. Within “The Tower” it is Yeats’s figure for the natural world in the larger sense and also the specific region that encompasses his local community.

Ancestral houses

Ancestral houses. The term Yeats employs in the first section of “Meditations in Time of Civil War” to describe the gracious, affluent lifestyles of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, which represented for him a standard of cultural accomplishment. In accordance with his amalgam of actual and imagined locations in The Tower, these “flowering lawns,” where “life overflows without ambitious pains,” were cast at a remove from his depiction in later sections (“My House,” “My Table”) of the stone structures and wood furnishings that formed the literal and symbolic elements of his home.

BibliographyAdams, Hazard. The Book of Yeats’s Poems. Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1990. A poem-by-poem reading that takes into consideration the order Yeats intended for the poems. Chapter 5 discusses The Tower as a series of returns.Ellmann, Richard. Yeats: The Man and the Masks. New York: Macmillan, 1948. An excellent introductory work that melds poetic interpretation into biographical context. Brief but insightful chapter on The Tower.Jeffares, A. Norman. A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1984. Indispensable companion to Yeats’s poems. All proper names, place names, and autobiographical references are explicated. Prose passages included.Unterecker, John. A Reader’s Guide to William Butler Yeats. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971. A reading of the first chapter, which discusses Yeats’s major themes, and the chapter on The Tower offers a strategy for interpreting Yeats’s poems.Yeats, William Butler. The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats. New York: Collier Books, 1965. Yeats’s own commentary on the major influences on his life and poetry remains one of the best complements to his poetry.
Categories: Places