Being Towards Death: Tragic Aesthetics and Stoicism in W. B. Yeats’s Men Improve With The Years

Shilong Tao


Men Improve With The Years was written by W. B. Yeats in 1916 by the time he had turned 50 years old. This paper argues that in this poem, Yeats presents his philosophical thoughts of the tragic life among human beings, highlighting that the joy in tragedy is “the way to survive” while the sorrow in tragedy is “being towards death”. Influenced by Nietzsche’s aesthetic notions of the Apollonian and Dionysian art, Yeats holds a kind of tragic aesthetic view towards death—“the unity of being” of individual life and nature, and aims to seek the joy of growing old and the freedom to create life out of life. As Apollonian dream covers the tragedy of life and Dionysian intoxication discloses it, the nameless old protagonist in the poem or Yeats himself attempts to bear the plight with stoicism and fortitude like a marble Triton so as to conquer and welcome all the sorrows in the process of aging and dying. Since men improve with the years, “being towards death” is the nature of living. Yeats hopes to achieve the aesthetic redemption from the tragic life in his early fifties, thus giving enlightenment to the predicament of human existence.


W. B. Yeats, Tragic Aesthetics, Apollonian and Dionysian, Stoicism, Aging, Men Improve With The Years

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