The 60th Swan at Coole

In the poem “The Wild Swans at Coole”, Yeats is staring at and meditating on the nature of swans, which we judged in-class to  symbolize a combination of eternal love and the representation of the anti-self. I believe that the number fifty-nine has significance, beyond the idea that Yeats himself is represented by the 59th swan that doesn’t have a paired lover; instead of this reading, which contextualizes the swans in fundamental absence, Yeats himself is visualizing himself as the other part of that  59th swan’s love.  In this reading, the swans, with Yeats added into their number, come to sixty entities within the text. This number draws obvious connections to seconds and minutes, playing on the idea of time which I believe to be the main theme of this text.

The swans are objects that Yeats looks at, hears, and senses – but he enjoys them perhaps most when he can externalize his own feelings of desire for companionship, which in the 4th stanza, he judges to be the antithesis of weariness and old age. Additionally, Yeats admires the swans’ power of choice, between “passion or conquest” and the ability to “wander where they will,” impassioned by their agency over the world and their Selves. These traits are the antithesis of what Yeats has been feeling recently in his old age, adding to his construction of the shadow-self as the 60th swan.

However, in the final stanza, Yeats asks where the swans will be, and whom they will delight, when he awakes one day to see that they are gone. This implicit sadness is not necessarily from remarking upon Yeats’s own death and removal as the 59th swan, but upon the lack of control that he has over these creatures that he wishes to identify with. They will continue on, outside of time, and Yeats knows that they will bring the same degree of happiness to other men – later, in other settings – as they do to him, as they are a symbol of the externalization of his desires. This final realization distances Yeats even further from uniting with his anti-self, as he knows that his desire to externalize is commonplace in humans – adding to his connection to the human race and thereby undercutting any potential to join the natural world.

One Reply to “The 60th Swan at Coole”

  1. I love the connection that you made between Yeats being the 60th swan and how the number 60 correlates with time. Regardless to whether or not Yeats did this on purpose, it does seem to make perfect sense within the poem for, as you said, Yeats is, due to his old age, recalling upon his past in response to seeing the swans again at Coole Park. The swans, as a whole, will continue on forever in time whereas Yeats, being a mere man, will eventually die and he is aware of this. He understands that his time will end and, because of this, he is not able to be the 60th swan. Instead, other men will have the chance to look upon the swans just as Yeats did.

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