William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet, a dreamer, and a visionary who was fascinated by folklore, ballads, and superstitions about the Irish peasantry. His poetry has Celtic flavor mixed with mysticism and melancholy. His aim in writing poetry was to make the world conscious of the beauties of Celtic literature. As he grew older, he deviated from pleasant lyrics to verses with sterner discipline and deeper thought.
Stolen Child by W.B Yeats was included in the volume of Crossways, which was published in the year 1889. It was written in 1886 and published in 1889. William Butler Yeats was 21 when he composed this poem. The poem celebrates the stories of Ireland, which his mother loved. It revolves around a group of fairies who lure a child away from his home to a fairy world.
The Stolen Child: Summary
The poet describes the ‘leafy island’ where the fairies live. The leafy island lies where the rocky high land of Sleuth Wood touches the water of the lake. Herons are awakening sleepy rats with the noise of their wings flapping. The fairies hid their fairy pots which are full of stolen berries and red cherries. The fairies call the human child to come to the waters of the lake and wild rock. The fairies ask the child to walk hand in hand with them towards their fairy island because the world in which the child lives is more full of miseries and sorrows than he can understand.
The fairies talk about a place that is far away from the distant Roses, where the stream of moonlight falls on the grey sands and brighten them, where the fairies walk all night and dance, join hands together, and cast glances at one another till the moon has reached heaven. The fairies tell us that they jump here and there, chase bubbles at night while the world full of troubles sleeps and is full of anxieties even when they are sleeping. The fairies call the child to come to the fairy island because the child lives in such a world that is fuller of miseries and tears than he can comprehend.
The third stanza of The Stolen Child describes where the fairies look for sleepy fish and give them disturbing dreams by whispering in their ears. They say that place lies where the water flows from hills above Glen-Car and causes out in pools among the tall grass. The fairies bend over the herbs which stand against the dewdrops near the streams. The fairies call upon the human child to their fairyland because the world where the human child lives is fuller of miseries than the child can think of.
In the final stanza of The Stolen Child, the child goes to the island with the fairies. The child looks serious. The fairies say that the child will no longer hear the sound of the calves on the hillside or the sound of the kettle over the fire that gives him warmth. The child will no longer see the brown mice jumping around the boxes containing oatmeals. He will miss the sights and sounds of the world because he is now coming to the leafy island to live with the fairies to escape from a world full of miseries and sorrows that the child can comprehend.
The Stolen Child: Analysis
The poem, The Stolen Child, is composed of four stanzas. Nature and the land of fairies present images of freedom throughout the first three stanzas. The first three stanzas of the poem The Stolen Child has Celtic references that make the reader realize that W.B Yeats wants to return to a more innocent and less politicized world of the past. Celtic legend often offers a myth about fairies stealing a child and replacing it with a changeling. Yeats uses this myth in his poem, The Stolen Child. He uses this myth to show his desire to return innocence to society. The poet uses the island’s image to symbolize the separation of the real world and the freedom that it creates for the fairies. “There lies a leafy island” refers to a place far away from the world of pain, which is the real world in which we dwell. The ‘wild’ represent the unrestricted life led by the fairies.
On the other hand, the poet has used refrain in The Stolen Child. There is a refrain at the end of each stanza which provides a musical tinge to the poem. A refrain is a repeated line or several lines in a poem or song, usually at the end of each verse. There is also a contrast in the refrain in this poem. The human world is full of joys and sorrows, and tears and laughter.
William Butler Yeats had used vivid imagery in his poem, The Stolen Child, to describe the dwelling place of the fairies. The description of flora and fauna of the fairy island is very appealing and convincing to its readers. The herons, the trout, the ferns, the grey sand paint a romantic color into the poem. A world of fantasy and illusion is introduced to the poem. The use of ‘water’ is symbolic of free-flowing life.
The poem’s plot is a metaphor for the return to innocence, which is characterized by childhood. The fantasy world created by Yeats is a sharp contrast to the real world. The creation of such a world shows the poet’s dissatisfaction with the real world. Yeats had portrayed his disappointment with modern society, probably because of the increased violence in society. The child finally leaves his world, which is full of sorrows and tears. He forgets his friends; he forgets his family. The fairies and leaves enchant him with them to a world free of miseries and sorrows.
In the end, Yeats keeps the readers in doubt about whether the fairy world is really better than the world in which we dwell.