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The Stolen Child- An Analysis of Wiliam Butler Yeat's Fascination with the Fae

Updated: Oct 4, 2022




The Stolen Child is a poem written by William Butler Yeats when he was 21. It is a fairy tale and reveals his love for Irish myths, mysticism, and romantic fairy stories.

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William Butler Yeats- An Introduction


William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865-28 January 1939) is arguably the most renowned, revered, and respected poet of the 20th century. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.


Born in Dublin, Ireland, Yeats was a playwright, prose writer, and poet. Growing up in Sandymount, an affluent coastal area of Dublin, Yeats was intrigued by Irish legends and the occult.


He explored poetry from a young age. As Yeats grew older his interests became increasingly political, and his famous The Second Coming is evident of his maturity as a poet.


Yeats firmly upheld his Irish roots, even though he lived in London during his youth. He endeavoured to revive Irish literature, in the mainstream culture. His companion John O'Leary reintroduced and renewed his acquaintance with Irish literature in England, especially the Celtic sagas.


As a student at Dublin's Metropolitan School of Art, he published his first works during the 1880s. At age 19 in the Dublin University Review, he published Mosada: A Dramatic Poem, and in 1889 he published his epic poem The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems his first collection in London.

To the Waters and The Wild


The Stolen Child was written in 1886 and published in Crossways in 1889 and then 1896 in the Irish monthly. Yeats was 21 when he published this poem.

The Stolen Child is comprised of four stanzas and is a reverie of his homeland Ireland and the spirited fae- that occupied the stories and mythology secreted away and harvested in Yeats's imagination.


Yeats was captivated with Irish fairy tales and published Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry in 1888, and Fairy Folk Tales of Ireland in 1892.


The poem wreathes themes of freedom and fantasy with shadowed, clandestine beings, who are deeply invested in the reader-child. It is a short delightful poem that has captured the hearts of many children, yet the underlying eerieness is hard to deny.


The deep, darker undercurrent of kidnapping human children, is allayed by the sweet, short, chantlike sentences and enchanting imagery.


Celtic mythology has fables of a collection of fairies that steal and wisp away children. Some replace children with fae changelings.


There is a promised sanctuary where innocence and the unhindered self can return to the untempered wilderness.


However, the constant return to the repeated sentence "For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand." is a hint full of menacing promise.



This juxtaposition maintains the poem's capacity for enduring storytelling. Each sentence is structured in simple-word symmetry. This enhances the beguiling nature of the read.


The Stolen Child's rhyming scheme is a basic ABAB CDCD EFEF and deviates to AABB (settling each stanza of the piece)- this highlights the elementary read and the audience it's meant for.



The poem draws inspiration from the Romantics and the Pre-Raphaelites. Both movements position that the beauty inherent to nature informs the highest virtue that one's conscious mind can aspire to.


In The Stolen Child, there is a duality to the form of the piece. Duality in nature, duality in fantasy, duality in the real world. It explores the duality in desire/regret, duality in innocence/malevolence, duality in loss/found.


Duality offers an interesting dimension to the poetry. It's a tragic beauty that something can't exist without its opposite. Emotions interlaced by laws of duality are deeply felt in our human experience.


Poetry structured on duality calls to our own knowing the contrast in beauty and melancholic loss.


When two opposing forces intertwine, the reach of one exceeds the other. The outcome is a multifaceted instance, that reveals itself in intricate design and unexpected destination.


Destination and Transformation


The final stanza confirms that the fairy folk has the human child, their enticing dance with rhythm and words worked.


The journey with the fae has been pleasant and rich with delights and promise, yet, as the human child finds himself far removed from the familiarity of the home there remain doubts as to the intent of the fairies.


What do you think reader? Is the human child in the palace of endless innocence, rampant wilderness, and continued delight?


Or is the fate of the human child dark, terrible and cruel? Duality weaves inevitable transformation- What then could the outcome be for this child-human? Please let me know in the comment section below.





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12 Comments


Jay Ehros Rosing
Jay Ehros Rosing
Feb 08, 2022

One of my favourite WB. Yeats poems! Always felt the poem was a little sinister despite how pretty it read and I can't help but thing of changelings when I read this poem. Also found out about a poetic movement I didn't know about (Pre-Raphaelites) and found a poem I like now.


Your analysis of the work was also really good! Very enjoyable.


Well done!

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Feb 09, 2022
Replying to

Thank you for your words of support and encouragement ! The Stolen Child is indeed haunting and beguiling … the perfect amalgamation for a poetic fairy tale ..

The Pre-Raphaelites find expression in art as well and there are some fascinating pieces to inspire poems. Again thank you for you thoughtful contribution to this.

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Sophie
Sophie
Jan 31, 2022

Wow Garish, another mind blowing post from you - though I wouldn't expect any less. As for your question, I do think that children are in the "palace of endless innocence" but that innocence is what can lead to the dark, terrible, and cruel unknowingly.

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Feb 01, 2022
Replying to

Thanks so much Scar!! That means a lot to me. Agreed I suppose as with anything sweet it is subject to natural decay- 🍯💛🌺



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Ken LeMarchand
Ken LeMarchand
Jan 30, 2022

I'm a sucker for anything related to the fae folk, goblins, and other Celtic myths. I used to watch Jim Henson's The Storyteller all the time growing up, and I also used to imagine myself running through the woods with a stick as a wand in hand, wishing to be whisked away into the world of fairy, but alas it never happened. I've talked with numerous Wiccans about this topic as well, and it is a very interesting discussion for sure.


This Yeats poem (The Stolen Child) encapsulates the myth of changelings well. The music in the video you linked also has this sort of eerily omniscient vibe to it that is both flight-of-fancy and gloomy. Reminded me of the…


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Feb 01, 2022
Replying to

Ah, Jim Henson's The Labyrinth- when I first saw the talking caterpillar at age six, my tiny little world was blown away!! 🐛

There really is nothing quite like fairy storytelling to help transport a person. The Dark Crystal was also superb. I still haven't watched the Netflix series- saving it for a rainy day I suppose.


Thank you for your support Ken, it means so much, I can't tell you!


I am going to re-upload my vid- I mispronounced Yeats each and every time (How embarrassing 🙈 )


I believe that if you leave a little coin out for the fae, they'll silently accompany you on all your journeys.



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Jan 30, 2022

GARISH!!!!!!!!


You never fail to make a lasting impression with your analysis.


You break down text so effortlessly,that makes these unknown poets now known and gives us Covers the option to go deeper if we like.


I appreciate your take on contrast,as while not always needed,allows readers to explore topics within duality,while not sounding condescending.


Thank you so much for your analysis,Garish!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Jan 30, 2022
Replying to

Awww🤗 Bendy my friend! I’m beaming broadly at your very kind response. Thank you for such a lovely thing to say🧸


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Adam Gary
Adam Gary
Jan 30, 2022

Garish, you always bowl me over with you analysis of great poetry! I look forward to them every month! Thank you for unlocking the doors for us Covers with your incredible insight.

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Jan 30, 2022
Replying to

Thank you so much for your heartening words..They always uplift and help me. I really appreciate this guest spot! This is a major highlight for me to!!


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