Saturday, September 27, 2008

“The Song Of Wandering Aengus”

His good friend Lady Gregory once described W.B. Yeats as looking “every inch a poet;” & for all his Celtic Twilight mysticism & his involvement with The Golden Dawn & other occult folderol, there is no doubt that in writing as well as in look, Yeats was a poet thru & thru.

One of the commonplaces in talking about poetry is the idea of melding sound & sense. If that is in fact the touchstone of poetry, then Yeats produced some of the best, since his best poems are both extremely sonorous & profound in their thought.

Yeats was, of course, an Irish poet who lived from 1865 to 1938. He was a prolific writer—poems, plays, essays
& a bridge between the Pre-Raphaelites & the Modernists. Besides his mystical dalliances mentioned above, Yeats was at times involved in the struggle for Irish freedom (especially under the influence of the bewitching actress/revolutionary Maud Gonne, his “muse” from the 1880’s onward), was a companion of Ezra Pound, reputedly insulted James Joyce (supposedly saying, “Never have I seen so much pretension with so little to show for it”), a captivating reader (check out his reading of his 1893 poem “The Lake Isle of Inisfree”), a scholar of classical thought—but most of all, a poet.

The poem below was published in Yeats’ The Wind Among the Reeds (1899); nowadays it can be found in any decent Yeats’ collection. It dates from his “Celtic Twilight” period—Aengus was a hero of Irish mythology. This poem reminds me of autumn (on a mundane level); on a less mundane level, it strikes me as a moving description of yearning; & as usual with Yeats, the words have their own music.

The poem has been set to music, however, though there’s some debate about who did so—based on the discussion here it sounds as though one version at least may have originated with Yeats himself. It’s been performed by musicians such as Judy Collins, Jean Redpath, Dave Van Ronk & Richie Havens.

This is a truly gorgeous lyric poem, & suitable for this time of year when the apples hang on the boughs & the morning mist settles into the valleys…. Enjoy!

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.

W.B. Yeats 1899

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