‘The Stolen Child’ is a poem showing Yeats’ longing to escape from the world, as well as his realisation that despite the world’s flaws, it is still home. Yeats writes a poem in which a human child is taken to the supernatural world, an enchanting, playful and ethereal place. There’s a sense of languid flow which disguises the strong metre. It’s a narrative viewpoint with ballad-like qualities, almost similar to a monologue. The structure of the verses rings change, each stanza has a different number of lines. The rhyme scheme is regular to show the stability of home, and this contrasts with the cold changes of the new world.
Yeats’ early work is often concerned with romantic world and Irish folklore. Ireland as a nation was struggling for independence and trying to assert it’s own identity against the British and the Empire. A returns to local traditions is a way of asserting and creating a sense of Ireland as both different but also ancient with it’s own roots.These early writings see Yeats turning away from the realistic political imperialism in seeking the truths of older tales and legends (tales of morality etc).
The title is key to the poem, ‘The Stolen Child’ as a phrase explores the idea of a changeling, or a child stolen by faeries, a common myth to many cultures which owes it’s tale to Sligo. Yeats was fascinated with the occult and the supernatural. He drew much inspiration from tales associated with Sligo in the Romantic West of Ireland. The faeries in the poem seem to lament the tears and tragedies of the human world. The poem ironically presents the supernatural as something sinister, luring the child away from the wholesome into the unconscious depths of the “wild waters”. The faeries in the poem aren’t good ones. The voices may be those of the pagan Sid Hi – spirits of gaelic mythology that lure the Child from his world. They are evoked in a mystical way and yet their purposes are obviously sinister.
Much of the poem’s delight comes from it’s lyricism, each verse except the last begins with the enchanting word “Where”. The words are strong, song-like and romantic with alliteration and assonance. Rhythm and flowing full rhymes evoke a mystical atmosphere and the use of the word “we” expresses a sense of a separate exotic magical identity of shared doing and being.
The phrase “hid our faery vats” anticipates the human theft at the end of the poem. The idea of theft is also shown in the phrase “reddest stolen cherries”. This also suggests the hoarding of the most precious things and the colour may suggest the shedding of blood or some act of violation against innocence.
There’s irony in the refrain:
“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.“
The faeries are drawing the child from the world, and they appear to be saving the child from the “weeping”, yet they actually cheat and deceive. The phrase “Come away, O human child!” offers the troubled child a rescue from the sorry world to a kingdom of riches and delight. This musical refrain also shows an alluring cadence, the falls and closes in rhythm and rhyme show a sense of shared delight.
The delicacy of sound weaves a spell, evoking a landscape and a world in a dream in which the faeries can even enchant the fish, “slumbering trout”. There are lots of adjectives which gives a sensuous honeyed quality to the poem, “leafy island”, “frothy bubbles”, this makes the poem seems childlike and attractive to children.
In the third stanza the sibilance of the letter ‘s’ conjures up a sense of stillness and mischief as the faeries set their trap, “That scarce could bathe a star”. The action anticipates the more sinister ending of the poem where the “solemn eyed” boy is captured by the faeries spell.
In the fourth stanza Yeats writes about what the boy will lose when he falls the the faeries.
“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,”
These are warm pastoral images that are a reassuring representation of home for the child. The “oatmeal chest” shows the peace and fulfillment of the natural world. It presents a contrast between the human and the ethereal faery world. It shows abundance and plenty. The “waters and the wild” shows how the boy is lured from the warmth of his home for the cold alien reality of the faeries. The human world may be full of “weeping” but it is still his world.
In the last stanza “you” is changed to “he” which sounds more sinister and removed, as if the child is now distant and caught in the faery world. It’s almost mocking the parents. The use of “he” also shows how the faeries are evil as they don’t even know his name, yet it could also show how “he” represents many children.
The poem can be interpreted as a parable for the loss of innocence, a dream that lures then betrays us. It shows the dangers of the supernatural; of powers that serve their own purposes; and of the illusory nature of beauty. The poem isn’t simple escapism where the poet turns his back on reality for a romantic world, the poem shows us how the Child can sometimes be lost in such dreaming.
Thanks for reading,