Of all the poems of which I am very fond, and which I have on occasion reproduced without comment on my blogs, my favourite remains Yeats’ The Song of Wandering Aengus. The title of this blog, and the by-line are taken from the poem.
It is my favourite because it is filled with the obscure mystic feel of Celtic mythology. Aengus Óg was the ever youthful son of the Daghda, Chief of the Gaelic Gods, and Bionn, the Goddess of the river Boyne. Aengus represents the god of love in Irish Mythology. His name means vitality.
This poem does not relate any of the traditional stories about Aengus that I know of. It is as if it is about an Aengus in a time after all the tales told of him. In his old age. This is paradoxical, because Aengus was forever young and lived in a palace on the Boyne where everyone was immortal, with never-ending food and drink and where the music lulled visitors to sleep for three days and three nights. He spent his time with his beloved Caer, alternating for a year as a swan and then for a year as a human.
Caer is Caer Ibormeith, Celtic goddess of sleep, dreams and prophecy. I named my CPAP after her.
What caused the fire in his head? What sent him away from his eternal palace to the hazel wood, and then on a quest after another shape-shifting girl, taking him through hollow and hilly lands to old age?
The Song of Wandering Aengus is a poem about love, and mystery. In just 24 lines Yeats has described fleeting love, loss and longing, growing old, and persistence. That what we seek in life is ultimately unattainable. The poem suggests hopelessness yet ends with optimism.