Literary Devices in The Song of Wandering Aengus

Poetic Form, Rhyme, and Meter: “The Song of Wandering Aengus” consists of three eight-line stanzas, each of which follows an ABABCDCD rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme and tetrameter—four stresses, or beats, per line—lend the poem the tone of a ballad. Such a tone is fitting, for the poem, like many ballads, is concerned with a lover’s pursuit. One rhyme effect worth noting is the slant rhyme, an imperfect end rhyme that Yeats so mastered that it is often known as the Yeatsian rhyme.

Metaphor, Simile, and Symbol: Throughout “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” Yeats uses metaphors, similes, and symbols to deepen the resonance of the poem’s language and images. It is clear early on in the poem that the images and stories are purveyed through metaphor. The early image of a fire in the the speaker’s head attunes us to the poem’s metaphor-rich atmosphere.

Literary Devices Examples in The Song of Wandering Aengus:

The Song of Wandering Aengus 5

"The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun...."   (The Song of Wandering Aengus)

The speaker states that the apples are silver and gold, which suggests that they represent something more than simple apples. Silver and gold are not only inorganic materials, but also they are colors full of symbolism. With this in mind, such apples are the result of artistic creation. In the poem, the apples represent the perfection and purity that only art can achieve. Only through art can Aengus’s quest can be accomplished. This poem itself serves as an act of taking and offering such apples. There is another way in which the apples represent the fruit of artistic creation: just as the golden apples of mythology offer immortality, so does art outlast its creator.

"where she has gone..."   (The Song of Wandering Aengus)

This poem describes Aengus searching for the love he encounters in this magical way, wandering the earth hoping to find her. However, in the Celtic myth, Aengus does not search for his lover. His mother and father search the earth and King Bodb actually finds her. Since Yeats’s story of Aengus differs from the poem, readers end up seeing his experiences more realistically. His love is not eternal and edenic; rather, it is the experience of both sadness and joy, loss and fulfillment.

"stream..."   (The Song of Wandering Aengus)

Yeats was such a master of slant rhyme that the technique is often referred to as “Yeatsian rhyme.” A Yeatsian rhyme is defined by a loose, subtle connection between end-rhyming words. Often in such a rhyme, the consonants are different but there exists a connecting vowel sound; or, conversely, the vowel sounds will be different but a hint of a consonant sound will connect the words. “Wing” and “stream” are faintly connected by their final consonant sounds. In the first stanza, “wood” and “wand” form a rim rhyme: the words begin and end with w and d sounds.

"white moths..."   (The Song of Wandering Aengus)

According to Celtic lore, moths were seen as the souls of the dead, flying about on their way to the afterlife. White moths in particular were understood to be omens of death. In the context of this poem, the “white moths… on the wing” signal Aengus’s mortality, one of Yeats’s most significant departures from the original myth of the eternally youthful Aengus.

"stars were flickering out..."   (The Song of Wandering Aengus)

The stars are “flickering out” because the sun is rising and the stars are becoming less visible. However, this line can be read metaphorically as well. Since stars are associated with constellations they represent mythology. The sun rising and the stars fading could represent the blending of the real and mythological worlds.