The Stolen Child
In W. B Yeats ‘The Stolen Child’, written in 1886, Yeats employs a vivid use of imagery and contrast to create an easily visualised representation of his beloved rural Ireland, but also a world of fantasy and sheer mysticism; a world created from Yeats love and life-long intrigue of the Irish folk-lore tales of old, and how he saw their revival, their symbolism and importance as something that needed to be preserved and re- addressed amongst his modern day Ireland.
Considered as one of Yeats better known earlier pieces, the poem itself and its overall message is something I feel is ery ultimately left open to much suggestion and debate. In this essay, I seek to highlight Yeats own sense of mysticism toward the old Celtic fables through his passionate and seamless depictions of his rural homeland, the World of reality and the strikingly ethereal yet easily envisioned realm of the fairies; his fantasy world’.
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In the first stanza, Yeats makes mention toward ‘Sleuth Wood’, the name given to Slish Wood upon Lake Gil which harkens back to his childhood in rural Sligo. Where dips the rocky highland, of Sleuth Wood in the lake’, (Yeats, 2008) a reference to the verlooking hilltop known as ‘The Kings Head’. His use of the woodland by name creates an instantly relatable image for the reader, the natural beauty of the rural Emerald Isle as Yeats saw it immediately realised and established.
The beginning of the second stanza again grounds the reader to reality with the mention of ‘dim grey sands of light, far off by furthers Rosses’” a reference to Rosses Point, (Yeats, 2008) a small seaside village upon a headland north-west of Sligo. Again the image is an instantly recognisable and relatable one, and a true to life locational reference that gain helps see the lines of reality and fantasy to the reader ever slightly blurred.
In what might be seen as homage to the stories of his youth, stories much loved by his mother, his depictions of the pastoral life of rural Ireland at the beginning of each stanza reminds the reader constantly the time and lifestyle in which they inhabit. Stanza four’s mention of the ‘lowing of the calves’, and the traditional ‘kettle upon the hob’ reinforce what we perceive to be the most rural of Irish homesteads, and yet what follows with the progression of each stanza is a meandering of traditional Irish uperstitions and personal, romantic depiction of Yeats contrasting fantasy world.
It is stanza one where Yeats describes the ‘leafy Island’, a realm of the fairies, where they ‘hid their fairy vats’, their ‘pots of berries and stolen red cherries’ (Yeats, 2008). The notion is presented of a place far removed from the pains and troubles of the real world, while still striking the image of somewhat familiarity. The image of the mischievous fairies draws from age old Irish folklore and superstitions, something Yeats throughout his life held a great fascination toward, although to say the fairies f this poem are truly seen as mischievous would be left open to interpretation.
The fairies come to take a human child to the waters and the wild’ (Yeats, 2008), an image that relates back to many of the old Celtic mythologies of the fairly folk, how they may snatch away children replacing them with changelings. As with much of Yeats earlier works with Irish folk lore, the poem takes from and delves heavily into the Celtic influences. The fairies wish to walk hand and hand with the child across the waters 2008) The fairies represent for the greater part of the poem the essence of freedom nd innocence, or at the very least its illusion.
The second stanza gives mention to them leaping to and fro’, wild and free, chasing the froth bubbles of the free running waters, while the world”the world of reality”sleeps anxiously in its troubles. Much comparison can be made with the tale of Oisin and Tire Na N’og, the contrasting promises everlasting youth and freedoms. The image of the island itself invokes symbolism. The realm of the fairies is a far removed and magical one to that of the real world, but its familiarity in its connection to the world is what grounds it to not omplete disbelief.
The island is located within the lake, itself a metaphor for isolation, or to be isolated from that around it while seeming not entirely out of reach. This liberates it from the harshness out the outside world, creating the sense of a romantic place untouched by the boundaries and conditions of a changing world progressing and evolving about it. Waters surround it, protecting it. ‘The wandering water gushes’ (Yeats, 2008) stirs an image of something free-flowing and untameable.
Nature is another image that represents the contrasting images of freedom. In tanza four, Yeats mentions the ‘calves on the warm hillside’ and the brown barn mice, while in his initial description of the leafy island, herons are said to be flapping free to the waking of the drowsy water rats. The pastoral calves upon the hillside strike the image of nature’s enslavement to modern society. Upon the island, no such thing exists. The bird’s fly and wildlife roam as free as the waters and the fairies themselves.
The romantic notion of such an untouched harmonious place strengthens. Again much can be made as to the true meaning behind the poem, as it is open to endless suggestion and debate. Upon first reading and analysis of the poem, innocence”or its loss”was a theme that seemed to stem from the representation of the fairies. The fairies perhaps represent everlasting innocence, something that will inevitable be lost to the human child as time and life progress” as it does with us all.
They seek to take him away to preserve that which will become fleeting to him, referring to the real world as one of weeping that he can never truly fathom, but ultimately talking about the challenges of life and all that embodies it. There is a level of freedom suggested in the notion of ever-lasting innocence, again ersonified in depictions of the free running/flowing imagery of the fairy realm, to the idea of being shielded entirely from the world’s ‘horrors’ can bring one’s self to be liberated; if not physically then perhaps mentally or emotionally.
To stay forever young is to stay forever naive, to stay pure or perhaps even without sin or corruption. This idea of preserving innocence shows to me maybe contempt for what is depicted to be the ‘reality world’, and what Yeats felt it to be. We were no longer a people and nation that Yeats saw to embrace the same beauty of heritage as we once were. We ived in a world now more politicised than ever before and in doing so, we were losing and forgetting a very large part of what was both important to us as a culture and a nation”losing our ‘innocence’ in this regard.