Stolen Child

When I was in high school I had a recording of Loreena McKennitt singing W. B. Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child,” only I didn’t realize that it was a Yeats poem.  In fact, I didn’t know who Yeats was at the time.

A few years later I was in college (Denison U., Class of 2000!) and idling through the library.  I found a copy of poems by Yeats — and had heard of him, albeit only nominally, by that point.  As I was acquainting myself with his work, flipping through the pages, I came across this poem.  I only half remembered the Loreena McKennitt song, so as I read I had this sense of knowing the poem as a distant, unplaceable memory.  It was 1996, so the internet was in its infant stage and there was probably no way for me to search the lyrics to find the connection anyway.  So it stuck in my brain for about a month until I happened to play the McKennitt CD.

My face lit up with a smile.  The poem and song found me.

They’ve been in my head of late because of Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Our production will make use of the changeling Indian Boy mentioned in the text but not (usually) seen. Why does Titania really take him in?  What would Oberon do with him?  What is life like living with the faeries?  What is it like to be a stolen child?

Is the world really less full of weeping with the faeries…?

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My nephew in Connecticut.

The Stolen Child
by William Butler 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.

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