The poem features Aengus, a hero from Irish mythology. One night, a maiden appears to him in a dream
or apparition, and Aengus thereafter travels for many years in search of her.
In the real myth, Aengus eventually finds her at the edge of a lake but she is under a spell and is being
forced to live a life as a swan. Aengus jumps into the lake after her and is also transformed into a swan.
Together they sing songs that are so beautiful that those who hear them are lulled to sleep. They live for
a year as swans before regaining their human shape.
"The Song of Wandering Aengus" takes the story at its very beginning, when Aengus meets the
maiden in his dream and then searches for her.
ABOUT THE POET
William Butler Yeats was born in County Dublin (Ireland) in 1865, although the family soon relocated to
Sligo which the young poet came to think of as his spiritual home.
The family moved to England in 1876 so that their father could further his own career as an artist. At first
the young William was home-schooled and entered formal schooling only at the age of 12, where his
performance was described as mediocre.
When the poet was 15, however, the family returned to Dublin and it was here that he began writing
poetry, with his first works being published when he was about 17.
Yeats had a deep interest in mysticism, spiritualism, occultism and astrology, something that is reflected
in many of his poems. Indeed, his "Second Coming" cannot be understood unless this astrological
background is realised.
He was also involved in Irish nationalism, something too that is reflected in much of his writing.
In 1883 - when the poet was but 18 - he met Maud Gonne, then a 23 year old heiress. Their friendship
would last some 33 years.
By 1916, when Yeats was already 51 years old, he probably realised that chance of marriage with children
was passing him by. He suddenly became intent on having both and decided to propose to Maud Gonne
but she turned him down.
Two rumours arose out of this: first, that his poem "Wild Swans at Coole" was written after the
"shock" of his being turned down and, second, that Maud Gonne suggested he rather marry her
Probably neither story is true although marriage to the daughter had a greater chance of bearing offspring
than did the poet's marrying the mother.
It seems also likely that the proposal to Gonne herself was more a point of etiquette and that the poet
couched it with such conditions that refusal was the intention.
Yeats did then propose to the daughter but she likewise turned him down. Within months, however, the
poet married the 24 year-old Georgie Hyde-Lees with whom he had two children.
Yeats won several awards for his work, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He died in France
in January 1939 at the age of 74.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?