The Stolen Child



THE STOLEN CHILD

 by W.B. Yeats

 

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

 

I can’t wait to discuss this poem in my upcoming Teen Poets workshop. Yeats uses rhyme and meter to emphasize a child’s world – the Fairy Realm – and the way the musicality of the refrain underscores this inaccessible, faraway place. “Come away, O human child!/To the waters and the wild/With a faery, hand in hand/For the world’s more full of weepin than you can understand.” The particulars of the poem – the “rocky highland,” the “leafy island,” the “flapping herons” which wake the “drowsy water rats” to me suggest a sleepy otherworld. “The Stolen Child” gets really interesting in lines 23-24: “While the world is full of troubles/And is anxious in its sleep.” Here, through juxtaposition and the repeated use of words like “sleep” and “drowsy” and “unquiet dreams” he suggests that perhaps we are asleep in this world as well. Yeats’ choice of place names – the “Slueth Wood,” the “Rosses.” “Glen Car” are all (at least to my ears) ancient sounding and alluring, drawing you in through sound almost as a lullaby does. The irony lies in what the lullaby conceals – the pain of being human, the subtext of the phenomenal world from which the child is being lured.  Everything I love about Yeats converges in this poem, even his fixation on the body as the locus of all human suffering.

As little as Yeats and Sendak could possibly have to do with each other, “The Stolen Child” makes me think of Sendak’s work, in particular the associations of childhood with the palpable threat of predation and abduction that appear in Outside Over There and We Are All in the Dumps With Jack and Guy.

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