Saturday, 19 January 2013

Poetry Reads: The Song of Wandering Aengus by WB Yeats


Yeats was inspired by Irish mythology. Aengus was the god of everlasting youth in Irish mythology who lived in a palace called Brug na Boinne. He was in love with a girl called Caer whom he saw in a dream and after a while of looking for her, he found her. She used to live year-after-year either as a swan or as a girl. The year she turned into a swan, Aengus turned into a swan too to be with her. The following year, they resumed the form of human beings. In the first stanza of this poem, the imagery is magical and romantic. The narrator goes out to the ‘hazel wood because a fire was in my head’. There is this longing to meet the girl he loves. In this poem, Yeats turns Caer into a trout instead of a swan.

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

While in mythology, Aengus finds Caer to be with her for good, the following stanza reveals the elusiveness of the love the narrator feels. It paints his yearning to be united with his beloved although it is just a dream.

Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air’.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

In the following stanza, Aengus has grown old unlike the character from mythology. He is still looking for his elusive love. He longs to be in Brug na Boinne where there is always a feast; the palace of youth, feasting and cheer. Love remains unrequited although there is a tone of fantastical optimism to find who and what he has craved and loved.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

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(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

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