The Stolen Child

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Glencar Waterfall, County Leitrim mentioned in the poem

"The Stolen Child" is a poem by William Butler Yeats, published in 1889 in The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems.


The poem was written in 1886 and is considered to be one of Yeats's more notable early poems. The poem is based on Irish legend and concerns faeries beguiling a child to come away with them. Yeats had a great interest in Irish mythology about faeries resulting in his publication of Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry in 1888 and Fairy Folk Tales of Ireland in 1892.

The poem reflects the early influence of Romantic literature and Pre-Raphaelite verse.

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 berries
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 grey sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We footed 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 is 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.

Publication history[edit]

The poem was first published in the Irish Monthly in December 1886. The poem was then published in a compilation of work by several Irish poets Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland in 1888 with several critics praising the poem. It was later published in his first book of poetry The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems as well as Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.

In modern culture[edit]

The poem was first set to music as his Op.38 by the English composer Cyril Rootham, originally for SATB voices and piano (1911) and then for SATB chorus and small orchestra (1912). The poem was also set to music and recorded by Loreena McKennitt on her 1985 debut album Elemental and again on Nights from the Alhambra (2006). Subsequently, additional musical versions were recorded by the folk rock group The Waterboys, appearing on their 1988 album Fisherman's Blues, with portions of the poem spoken by Tomas Mac Eoin; Heather Alexander on her 1994 album Wanderlust; and Hamilton Camp on his 2005 album Sweet Joy in the song "Celts". Another version, set to music and recorded on the Danny Ellis album 800 Voices, was released in 2006. In 2012, Merrymouth, a folk band led by Simon Fowler of Ocean Colour Scene recorded the poem set to a melody written by Fowler and music by Merrymouth (Fowler, Sealey, McNamara) for their debut album Simon Fowler's Merrymouth. The renowned American composer Eric Whitacre has also set this poem in a piece for The King's Singers and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. British composer and guitar virtuoso Steve Hackett recorded a version of Yeats' poem under the title "Waters of the Wild" on his 2006 album Wild Orchids.

Keith Donohue's novel The Stolen Child (Nan A. Talese, 2006) was inspired by the poem. The refrain is prominently featured in Steven Spielberg's film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The poem is also featured in the television series Torchwood episode "Small Worlds", being spoken by a fairy who steals a young girl. The novel Dies the Fire also incorporates the poem into elements of Wiccan rituals.

An Irish dance show called The Prophecy is based upon the poem. It is performed by Scottish-based company Siamsoir Irish Dancers and has won an award for the Best Dance and Theatre act at the world's largest Robert Burns festival, The Big Burns Supper in Dumfries.

The refrain is featured in the 2014 movie Song of the Sea, which is based largely on Celtic mythology.

The novella "The World More Full of Weeping" by Robert Wiersema references this poem.

The novel "Shutter Man" by Richard Montanari references the last stanza of the poem.

On the television show The Finder, the line "Come away, O human child" is seen inscribed on Eloise Jade Knox's headstone in episode 10, The Conversation.

American hard rock band The Sword, in the liner notes from their debut album Age of Winters, quotes the refrain of the poem, among artwork of trees and faeries.

See also[edit]

Location of this waterfall, nestling in the Emerald Isle
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  • R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats: a Life, Oxford University Press 1998 ISBN 0-19-288085-3 pages 56, 75-76
  • Richard J Finneran (ed) Yeats: An Annual of Critical and Textual Studies XII, 1994 ISBN 0-472-10614-7 pages 91–92
  • Michael Bell, Literature, Modernism and Myth: Belief and Responsibility in the Twentieth Centuries ISBN 0-521-58016-1 pages 44–59
  • David Ben-Merre, Falling into Silence: Giorgio Agamben at the End of the PoemMOSAIC 2012 ISSN 1925-5683 pages 89-104
  • Terence Brown, The Life of W.B. Yeats Blackwell Publishing 2001 ISBN 0-631-22851-9 pages 9, 19, 66
  • William A. Dumbletone, Ireland: Life and Land in Literature SUNY Press 1994 ISBN 0-87395-783-0 Pages 93–95, 129, 135-138

External links[edit]