Yeats wrote this poem in 1926, in a crucial moment of his life, from a mature perspective. Byzantium, stated in the title of the poem, was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, city that nowadays is called Istanbul. .
The author uses symbols throughout the poem to relay all the metaphoric strength, and the feelings he wishes to communicate. In the title, Sailing evokes the journey that every man makes through life; Byzantium, a city full of splendor, symbolizes endurance, cultural richness, and greatness. .
It is clear that the author is concerned with growing old. In the first stanza, he writes "That is no country for old men", to continue describing a world of roaming energy and life "Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long". But this world is not everlasting, for everything fades and dies. Every man is trapped in the net of time, even if we occupy our life distracting and enjoying. Our time will eventually come to an end: "Caught in that sensual music all neglect". .
The second stanza is very revealing.
He has an image of an old man as despicable, useless, and decrepit. But he sees hope for this worthless being. This hope comes when a man's Soul reveals against death, and sings. It sings a song that cannot be learned anywhere in this world. It can only be learnt by getting to know one's inner self, and being aware of one's greatness: "studying Monuments of its own magnificence". If we observe this last statement, there seems to be an implication: that you have to consider yourself magnificent, worth of a supreme existence, in order to defeat decrepitude and a futile existence. And for this, it seems to be required the use of a person's intellect, matured and forged throughout a lifetime. .
The Monument that he has chosen is the city of Byzantium. He has arrived to a state that he considers sacred, in a journey that took a big part of his lifetime: "I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium".