W.B. Yeats and Love on the Stream

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was a renowned Irish poet and nationalist. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. He influenced many fellow poets and Irish nationalists. As one interested in spiritualism and mysticism, he also influenced intellectuals as far afield as scholars of religion. W.Y. Evans-Wentz, best known for popularizing the scholarly study of Tibetan Buddhism (and also for romanticizing the religion in an oft-criticized way) cites Yeats as a great influence in his The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries (1911).

Following is a wonderful poem by Yeats, referring to both fishing and love. It hints, perhaps, at the transformations described in such ancient Celtic stories as the “Tale of Gwion Bach,” supposedly describing the birth of Welsh bard Taliesin. Yeats’ poem is taken from An Anthology of Modern Verse, published in 1921.

“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 some one 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.

2 Responses to “W.B. Yeats and Love on the Stream”

  1. Jim Wilson Says:

    Perhaps my favorite Yeats poem. Discovered your blog while looking for something else and am quite happy for the accidental find. Graduated from UNC in 1977 with an English degree.


  2. Kenov Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Jim. As it happens, I shared the poem with my UNC students just a few weeks ago. Do you ever make it back to UNC?


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