The Song of Wandering Aengus

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.

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.

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.

Footnotes

  1. 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.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The image of lands both “hollow” and “hilly” evokes the tension between presence and absence in Aengus’s search. The “glimmering girl” exists in a state between the realm of dreams and the real world. Aengus’s quest is to unite the two, to make his dream a reality.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Yeats published “The Song of Wandering Aengus” in an 1899 collection of the same title. In the years from 1899 to 1902, Yeats proposed repeatedly to Maude Gonne, a women Yeats loved and pursued for much of his adult life. Though we cannot be sure that Yeats biography had any bearing on his art, it is worth considering the connection between Anegus’s endless, fruitless pursuit of the “glimmering girl” and Yeats’s similar pursuit of Maude Gonne.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. When Aengus blows “the fire a-flame,” there is a reiteration and transformation of the “fire in my head” in the first stanza. The fire of love and erotic desire has gone from an an idea in his head and taken on the worldly form of “a glimmering girl.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. In Celtic lore, Bean Naomha is a goddess of knowledge and wisdom who often appears in the form of a trout. The catching of the trout marks a step forward in Aengus’s insight and understanding. The Celtic tie between the trout and the goddess figure resurfaces in the “glimmering girl.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The magical appearance of apples could be an allusion to the Celtic story of Connla. In Celtic mythology, Connla, the warrior with the fiery hair, was seduced by a maiden who gave him an apple that replenishes itself every time he ate it. For a month, Connla only ate the apple, growing more and more in love with the maiden who had fed it to him. By the time she reappeared, Connla would have done anything for her. She asked him to follow her to a magical island where every fruit he ate would replenish itself eternally. She promised him immortality with the caveat that he could never return to the human realm. In Yeats’s poem, Aengus follows this pattern in reverse: he leaves immortality for the mortal world while Connla leaves the mortal world for the immortal one.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. 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.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. 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.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. The adjective “dappled” means speckled, spotted, or marked with blotches of a different color. Gerard Manly Hopkins’s well-known poem Pied Beauty notably deals with the beauty of “dappled” imperfections. Dappled things are generally symbolic of innocence. This adjective casts the life the speaker imagines with this woman as Edenic and pure.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. In Celtic mythology, Aengus’ love Caer does not flee from him. Caer was the goddess of sleep and dreams. She would turn into a human on the Samhain, the Gaelic festival that marked the end of the harvest season, and transform back into a swan at sunset. Aengus found her chained along with 50 other maidens at the lake of the Dragon’s mouth. He was told that he could marry Caer if he could identify her as a swan. When he was successful in this task, Aengus turned himself into a swan and flew away with his love.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. The girl appears with an apple blossom in her hair because apple trees were sacred in Celtic mythology. Apple trees were emblematic of fruitfulness and immortality. They were often placed on the pillows of unwed youths to facilitate fruitful marriages. The apple blossom in this girl’s hair makes her a symbol of immortality and worthwhile pursuit.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. In ancient fishing practices, fishermen would use poisonous berries as bait that would cause the fish to go limp as soon as they had consumed the bait. This would make it easier for fishermen to reel in the fish as it would not struggle.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. Here, the speaker is talking about fashioning a fishing rod out of hazel wood. He calls the rod a “wand” in order to invoke Celtic mythology and the history of the Druids, the priests or soothsayers of ancient Celtic religion. Druids carried wands to facilitate prayer, channel the will of heaven or symbolize their own power. Hazel was thought to have protective powers and was therefore one of the most sacred and revered woods for wand making.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. Hazel trees were an important symbol in Celtic mythology. Legend claimed that in the Otherworld, the realm of the gods and the dead, nine hazel trees hung over the Well of Wisdom. The trees would drop hazelnuts into the water where they would foam and create “mystic inspiration.” Hazel trees are thus associated with wisdom, divine inspiration, and poetic powers.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. Since Yeats titles the poem “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” the “I” that narrates this poem is Aengus himself. Aengus is the god of love, youth, and poetic inspiration in Celtic mythology. He is said to be the product of an adulterous relationship between Dagda and Boann. To hide her pregnancy, Boann, his mother, made the sun stand still until Aengus was born. The most famous myth in which Aengus is featured is the story of Caer, the imprisoned woman he fell in love with in his dreams.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff