Irish Literature

Irish Literature has a special place in my heart for the feeling and richness portrayed within it. From William Butler Yeats, to J.M. Synge, James Joyce or ancient myths about the adventures of Finn mac Cumaill, they all have a way of affecting the reader in a myriad of ways. First off I would like to share an analysis I once wrote of my favorite Irish poem from Yeats entitled, The Stolen Child

It is a wonderful mix of the mythic and melancholy which I believe was one of Yeats great strengths as a poet. This poem displays his greatness like the mists over the lake he describes.

The first stanza begins with a description of the location. “Sleuth Wood in the lake” is a nice way of telling us there is mystery with “Sleuth” in a wood on the lake. He populates this wood with ‘flapping herons” and “drowsy water rats”, going onto describe “fairy vats”, full of berries and “stolen cherries”. All of this is pure Irish myth and at that point he lets you know where he is going with it.

Come away, O human child!

            To the waters and the wild

            With a faery, hand in hand,

            For the world’s more full of weeping than you

                        Can understand.

This too is typical Irish myth; you just do not see it coming. The faery in Ireland have been used in some stories to protect humans, at least they believe they are.  He continues the next stanza with more faery fun and ending with the same chorus. There is only one difference.

In this stanza the faery speaks of dances and mingling hands and glances. From there they leap and “chase the frothy bubbles”. It becomes a little more ominous here because of the two lines before the chorus warning the child, the poem is no longer faery having fun. They are chasing the bubbles,

While the world is full of troubles

And is anxious in its sleep.

From here the faery repeat the last five lines from the first stanza.

The third stanza is similar to the second, but Yeats ads more ominous lines before the repeated final five lines. In fact there is only the first four lines out of fifteen that are of the lighter variety. This stanza speaks of gushing water that could barely bathe a star. A wonderful image isn’t it. Bathing a star! Then however they whisper to trout to give them unquiet dreams. (Another wonderful image, really). This leads to ferns dropping tears onto young streams. It gives me the picture of a woman weeping over her child. Is this the faery weeping for the child? Or for humanity? Then of course the last five are repeated again before the last stanza begins.

In the last stanza there is no debate over if the child is going with them. It has been decided and they have lured the child to come along to safety. There is continued melancholy and a little bitter sweetness that I will copy down in full.

Away with us he’s going,

The solemn-eyed:

He’ll hear no more the lowing

Of the calves on the warm hillside

Or the kettle on the hob

Sing peace into his breast,

Or see the brown mice bob

Round and round the oatmeal-chest.

For he comes, the human child,

            To the waters and the wild

            With a faery, hand in hand,

            From a world more full of weeping than he can


The poem as a piece tells the tale of faery luring a child with happy images, so they can save him from a world so full of weeping. Each stanza builds to the last, as all good short poetry does, to show us the child’s decision to the faery offer to come away. I could write ten pages about how beautiful I find this poem, but it would quickly become redundant as well as insufficient to the task. There are not enough words.





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