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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.

Themes Examples in The Song of Wandering Aengus:

The Song of Wandering Aengus

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"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.

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"pluck till time and times are done..."   (The Song of Wandering Aengus)

The contrasting images of moon and sun suggest their alternating appearances in the heavens, and thus the passage of time on earth. The role of time is a central theme in the poem. At the poem’s start, Aengus is the eternal youth for whom time does not flow. In his search for the beautiful “glimmering girl,” he becomes mortal and grows old. Yeats alters the original myth in this way. He shows us the aging Aengus who has wandered from the garden of myth, immortality and perfection for the real world, where one will never find the girl or, for that matter, anything ideal.

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

In his book Ideas of Good and Evil, Yeats explains the use of gold and silver in these lines. He claims that “if you wish to be melancholy hold in your left hand an image of the Moon made out of silver, and if you wish to be happy hold in your right hand an image of the Sun made out of gold.” The two apples the speaker presents at the end of the poem represent the fluctuation between melancholy and joy. Aengus’s pursuit over time brings him both happiness and sadness. Unlike most in myths, there is no resolution offered in this poem to Aengus’s suffering or love.

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