The Wild Swans at Coole by William Butler Yeats

The Wild Swans at Coole

by William Butler Yeats

Written between 1916 and early 1917, “The Wild Swans at Coole” is a lyric poem by Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Literary scholar Daniel Tobin suggests that the poem is about the poet’s search for a lasting beauty in a changing world where beauty is mortal and temporary.*

Swans on the lake at the Lazionki (Lazienki) Castle in Warsaw, Poland (Library of Congress image).

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty Swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

Portrait of William Butler Yeats by John Singer Sargent.

Portrait of William Butler Yeats by John Singer Sargent, 1908.

William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) was an Irish Symbolist poet, as well as a two-term Irish Senator. He was a master of traditional poetry forms, and is widely considered one of the most influential twentieth-century poets. Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, the first Irishman to win the prize.

Photo: Castle at Lazionki (i.e. Lazienki), Warsaw, Russia (i.e. Warsaw, Poland)
[between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900]
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Photochrom Collection, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03913

*Tobin, Daniel E. “Yeats’s Personal Utterance in ‘The Wild Swans at Coole.’” Yeats Eliot Review, (11:3), Summer 1992, 57-63.


Here is the preface to an early version of the book by William Butler Yeats:


This book is, in part, a reprint of The Wild Swans at Coole, printed a year ago on my sister’s hand-press at Dundrum, Co. Dublin. I have not, however, reprinted a play which may be a part of a book of new plays suggested by the dance plays of Japan, and I have added a number of new poems. Michael Robartes and John Aherne, whose names occur in one or other of these, are characters in some stories I wrote years ago, who have once again become a part of the phantasmagoria through which I can alone express my convictions about the world. I have the fancy[vi] that I read the name John Aherne among those of men prosecuted for making a disturbance at the first production of “The Play Boy,” which may account for his animosity to myself.

W. B. Y.

Ballylee, Co. Galway,
September 1918.


Listen to “The Wild Swans at Coole,” read by Tom O’Bedlam.

In an interesting variation, a songwriter named Toby Darling has set “The Wild Swans at Coole” to music. His version is below. He has included guitar chords in his notes on YouTube, so if you would like to try to play the song, click on the icon on the lower bar of the video in order to watch it on YouTube. Enjoy!


More William Butler Yeats poetry


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