The Song of Wandering Aengus: by W. B. Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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      One early morning, in the twilight of dawn, Aengus goes in to the forest, makes a fishing rod out of a stick of hazel, a thread and using a berry as bait catches a little silver trout. As he blows on the fire to cook the fish, the fish is transformed into a “glimmering girl” with apple blossom in her hair. She fades into the brightening light after calling him by name. Though old and exhausted in his search for her, Aengus still dreams of finding her and kissing her and making love to her. Indeed, he is determined to find her, if he has to search till eternity, and then he will pluck the silver apples of the moon and the golden apples of the sun.

Critical Explanation

      Aengus—a character in Irish myth, the God of youth, beauty, love and poetry. Here, on a symbolic level, he represents the poet himself and the poem relates to his passion for Maud Gonne. The Song the song is a recital of one of Aengus’ amorous adventures. On the symbolic level, it expresses Yeats’s ceaseless quest for Maud Gonne.

      Stanza I. Hazel—a small tree which yields reddish-brown nuts. A fire was in my head—the warmth generated by excitement or tumultuous feelings. Peeled—removed the skin or outer covering. Wand: stick; twig. Hooked a berry to a thread—attached a herry to a thread (to serve as bait). On the wing-flying about. Stars were flickering out—i.e., the time is the twilight of dawn, (when miracles are most likely to take place, according to Yeats). Caught a silver trout—By using the berry, thread and hazel stick as fishing rod, I caught a small silvery fish (trout).

      Stanza II. Blow the fire aflame—Having laid the fish on the ground I went to blow on the fire to make it hot enough to cook the fish. But something rustled on the floor, etc.—(The climax of the poem). The fish was transformed into a girl with apple blossom in her hair. She called out my name an then ran away, vanished. The apple blossoms are significant, because according to Kabbalistic (occult) lore, the Tree of Life is an apple tree with the sun and the moon as its fruits. Glimmering—shining; twinkling. Brightening air—i.e., day-break was near.

      Stanza III. Dappled grass—grass variegated or peachy in color. Till time and times are done—till eternity. Silver apples of the moon, the sun—Sun-moon is equivalent to masculine feminine is Kabhalistic lore. It relates to the Kabbalistic lore of the Tree of Life being an apple tree bearing the sun and the moon as fruits. The apple of the sun and the moon are associated with an indolently pleasant sexual relation.

Critical Analysis


      The Song of Wandering Aengus is from the volume of Yeats’s poetry called “The Wind Among the Reeds” (1899), and is thus one of his early poems. It shows his increasing interest and absorption in Irish mythology. In The Wanderings of Oisin, Aengus is the god of youth, beauty, and poetry, ruling the island which Oisin first visits, that is the land of the young. The poem is to be read both on the literal and the symbolic levels.


      The Song of Wandering Aengus can be read on the literal as well as the symbolic level. Yeats had developed a method of expressing personal feeling and experience through mythological images. The song of Aengus thus has a double function. On one level it describes the mythical figure’s experience; on another it conveys Yeats’s own experience of love for Maud Gonne. Yeats, one might remember, had first seen Maud Gonne standing beside a bouquet of apple blossoms and that he always associated apple blossoms with her complexion. Thus the poem could be read as a symbolic rendering of Yeats’s futile love for Maud Gonne and his continual quest for her.

      Another approach to the poem is to see it as a versification of the legends about the Sidhe women who, disguised as fishes, enchant living men.


      An interesting interpretation of the poem is to consider it to have been constructed from light itself A “fire” in his head drives Aengus to the hazelwood. He goes fishing in the twilight of dawn when “white moths” fly and “moth-like stars” flicker out, the time, as Yeats often pointed out, when miracles are most likely to happen. All the terms—“silver”, “aflame”, “glimmering”, “brightening”—derives from light. The imagery in the final part of the poem combines light and apple blossoms; only now the blossoms have grown into shining fruit which gives light to all things—the silver apples of the moon, and golden apples of the sun. In Yeats’s mythological imagination, when the mystical brotherhood of sun and moon combine with natural things, man is freed from the web of the natural world and its laws.


      As for the symbolism contained in the image of the silver and golden apples, it is derived from Kabbalistic (or occult) lore in which the Tree of Life is an apple tree with the sun and the moon as its fruits. The symbolism of the last lines relates to the “glimmering girl” with ample, blossoms in her hair—who is an image of Maud Gonne. In his later poetry, Yeats was to use this kind of complex relationship between symbols with increasing richness of meaning and suggestion.

      In The Song of Wandering Aengus, the sun and the moon play upon basic meanings, the masculine and the feminine, assigned to them. Aengus catches a silver (recalling moonlight) trout and, significantly it turns into a glimmering girl. The moon is equivalent to the feminine. Aengus says that he has not given up his chase through “hollow lands and hilly lands” and that he will continue until he rediscovers her. The apples of the sun and the moon are thus associated with an indolently pleasant sexual relation.

      The poem has a rich, sensuous appeal, for fancy has created its beautiful world. Indeed, it illustrates one critic’s view of Yeats’s poem being dramatic lyrics that behave as though they were fragments from a mythological romance. It is derived, according to Yeats himself from a Greek song and is a dream of successful love.


      The style of the poem is simple and well illustrates Yeats’s early poetical manner. It draws strength from deliberate repetitions and strong verbs, such as. “peeled”, “hooked”, “dropped.” The poem has some exquisite imagery conjured up through words such as "white moths on the wing”, “moth-like stars flickering out”, “a little silver trout”, “a glimmering girl with ample blossom in her hair.”

      The Song of Wandering Aengus, like other poems in “The Wind Among the Reeds” is concerned with love, with longing regret, for the wind symbolizes desire. It is, in the style of Yeats’s early poetry, an illustration of poetry for beauty’s symbolism became more striking, because of its closer relevance to hard reality. This poem shows a technique which is perfect and beautiful, but it is too rarefied for life. It is after “The Wind Among the Reeds” that the nature of Yeats’s work changed, or rather modified, reflecting his disillusionment and increasing consciousness of reality.

      In conclusion, we may say that The Song of Wandering Aengus expresses a quest for the impossible and unattainable. Legend is transformed by Yeats into a personal myth. Aengus’ unsatisfied love is symbolical, and shows the wide gap between reality and fancy.

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