The Wild Swans at Coole by W.B. Yeats Notes for BA English Students BBMKU

“The Wild Swans at Coole,” penned by the celebrated Irish poet William Butler Yeats, is a poignant and introspective work that beautifully captures the essence of nature’s enduring beauty and the ephemeral nature of human existence. Set against the backdrop of Coole Park, a place of personal significance to the poet, the poem delves into themes of time, change, and the passage of years. With vivid imagery and a reflective tone, Yeats invites readers to join him on a contemplative journey where the graceful swans become symbolic representations of both the timeless and transient aspects of life. As the poet observes these majestic creatures, he grapples with his own sense of aging and the realization that, despite the swans’ unchanging beauty, everything in life is subject to the inexorable march of time.

The Wild Swans at Coole

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?

Summary Stanza wise

Stanza 1: The poet begins by describing the beauty of the autumn landscape at Coole Park. He notes that the trees are in their autumn glory, the paths through the woods are dry, and the water reflects a calm, clear sky. The most significant detail in this stanza is the presence of fifty-nine swans on the water.

Stanza 2: In this stanza, the poet reflects on the passage of time. He mentions that he has been counting these swans for nineteen autumns, indicating that he has been observing them for a long time. He recalls the swans taking flight in the past, creating impressive patterns in the sky.

Stanza 3: The poet emphasizes how he has watched these swans over the years, and the experience has left him with a sense of longing and nostalgia. He acknowledges that the swans remain unchanged in their beauty and grace, but he himself has grown older.

Stanza 4: The swans continue to paddle on the water or soar through the air, and the poet realizes that they are still as passionate and free as ever. Their hearts have not aged or been affected by the passage of time, unlike his own.

Stanza 5: In the final stanza, the poet contemplates the future. He wonders where the swans will build their nests and bring delight to people’s eyes in the years to come. The poem concludes with a sense of uncertainty and a recognition of the eternal beauty of the swans, contrasted with the poet’s awareness of his own mortality and the changes that time brings.

Overall, “The Wild Swans at Coole” is a reflective poem that explores themes of time, change, and the enduring beauty of nature, as symbolized by the swans at Coole Park.

Critical Appreciation

1. Imagery and Nature: Yeats’ skillful use of imagery is a hallmark of this poem. He vividly portrays the autumn landscape at Coole Park, allowing readers to visualize the setting and the swans. The description of the swans taking flight and forming “great broken rings” is particularly striking. This rich imagery immerses the reader in the natural world and sets the tone for the poem’s contemplative mood.

2. Themes of Time and Change: “The Wild Swans at Coole” is a meditation on the passage of time and the inevitability of change. Yeats conveys a sense of nostalgia and longing as he reflects on the swans’ constancy in the face of his own aging. The swans become symbolic of timeless beauty and purity, while the poet grapples with the transitory nature of human existence.

3. Symbolism: The swans in the poem serve as powerful symbols. They represent not only the enduring beauty of nature but also the ideal of unchanging love and passion. The swans’ ability to remain unchanged in their beauty and freedom contrasts with the poet’s awareness of his own mortality and the impermanence of human emotions.

4. Structure and Form: The poem is written in five quatrains (four-line stanzas) with a consistent rhyme scheme (ABCB). This regular structure provides a sense of order and balance to the poem, mirroring the poet’s attempt to make sense of the passage of time. The use of quatrains also allows for a gradual development of ideas and emotions throughout the poem.

5. Personal Reflection: Yeats infuses the poem with a sense of personal reflection. The repetition of “I” and “my” throughout the poem emphasizes the poet’s own experiences and emotions. This introspective quality invites readers to connect with the poet on a deeply personal level, making the poem relatable.

6. Ambiguity and Uncertainty: The poem ends with a sense of uncertainty about the future. Yeats wonders where the swans will build their nests and bring joy to future generations. This ambiguity adds depth to the poem, inviting readers to contemplate the mysteries of life and time.

In conclusion, “The Wild Swans at Coole” is a masterful poem that combines vivid imagery, profound themes, and personal reflection. It invites readers to explore the complex interplay between the eternal beauty of nature and the impermanence of human existence. Yeats’ ability to convey deep emotions and contemplative thoughts through his poetry is on full display in this work.


1. Who is the author of “The Wild Swans at Coole”?

The poem “The Wild Swans at Coole” was written by the renowned Irish poet William Butler Yeats, often referred to as W.B. Yeats.

2. Where is Coole Park, and why is it significant in the poem?

Coole Park is a real place located in County Galway, Ireland. It was the home of Lady Augusta Gregory, a key figure in the Irish literary revival. Coole Park is significant in the poem because it serves as an inspiration for Yeats and is the setting for the poem’s description of the autumn landscape and swans.

3. What is the main theme of the poem?

The main themes of “The Wild Swans at Coole” include the passage of time, the permanence of nature, and the poet’s reflection on aging and change. It explores the contrast between the eternal beauty of nature, symbolized by the swans, and the fleeting nature of human life.

4. How many swans are mentioned in the poem, and why are they important?

The poem mentions “nine-and-fifty swans,” which is 59 swans in total. The swans are important because they serve as a central symbol in the poem, representing enduring beauty and grace amidst the poet’s realization of his own mortality and the changes that time brings.

5. What is the structure of the poem?

“The Wild Swans at Coole” is structured as a lyrical poem with five quatrains (four-line stanzas). It follows a consistent rhyme scheme (ABCB) and is written in a reflective and contemplative tone.

6. What is the significance of the swans’ flight in the poem?

The swans’ flight is described as forming “great broken rings” in the sky. This imagery symbolizes the cyclical nature of life and the passage of time. It highlights the idea that, like the swans, moments of beauty and freedom are fleeting and will eventually change.

7. What emotions does the poet convey in the poem?

The poet conveys a sense of nostalgia, longing, and introspection in the poem. He reflects on the swans as a source of beauty and inspiration while coming to terms with the changes and aging he has experienced over the years.

8. How does the poem end, and what is its significance?

The poem ends with the poet wondering where the swans will build their nests and continue to bring joy in the future. This ending emphasizes the uncertainty and mystery of the future, contrasting with the timeless beauty of the swans. It invites readers to ponder the unknown.

These FAQs provide insight into some of the key aspects and interpretations of “The Wild Swans at Coole” by W.B. Yeats. If you have more questions or need further information, please feel free to ask.