Themes in The Song of Wandering Aengus
Unrequited and Idealized Love: The central and most apparent theme in “The Song of Wandering Aengus” is that of unrequited love. In the first stanza, a young Aengus is struck by an intense infatuation with “a glimmering girl” and sets off in search of her. In the second stanza Aengus has grown “old with wandering” but has not found her. Aengus’s search is for a woman who does not exist. Even if she were a real person, Aengus chases not the woman herself but an ideal image of her as well as the feeling of infatuation and longing that struck him upon first encountering her. Yeats’s use of mythological allusions and metaphors emphasizes the theme of romantic idealization. The girl Aengus seeks is in the Otherworld, only to be encountered in dreams, fantasies, and longings. In this way, Yeats’s poem offers us a profound reflection on the nature of romantic love, particularly the way it is so often experienced in the dimension of private fantasy. In truth, the haunting, dream-like image of the “glimmering girl” is more mesmerizing than any actual human.
Perfection Through Art: Another theme in the poem is the possibility for perfection through art in an otherwise imperfect world. As the poem progresses, Yeats weaves a pattern of de-romanticization and disappointment. Aengus’s lovelorn search for Caer proves unfruitful. Even the mythical structure of the tale breaks down in the second stanza, with the supposedly immortal Aengus’s growing old. As the poem nears its end, however, Yeats suggests that there is another chance for worldly perfection: through artistic creation. In the poem’s closing lines, Aengus promises to pluck “the silver apples of the moon,/The golden apples of the sun.” This pair of images symbolizes the process of artistic creation. Not only are apples of the moon and sun metaphorical constructs, silver and gold are artificial materials. Thus the final image suggests the potential for perfection through artifice, an important consolation in a world that so often fails to live up to our ideals.