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W.B. Yeats

Song of Wandering Aengus

More challenging questions!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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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.


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 daughter, Iseult.

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?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air."
  • What was it that had become "a glimmering girl"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • How was it possible for that to happen? (2)

[Need help?]

  • What was happening when she "faded through the brightening air"? (2)

[Need help?]

"Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands."
  • How do you know that Aengus has been searching for the woman for a very long time? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet speak of "hollow lands"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Does Aengus ever find her? (4)

[Need help?]

"And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun."
  • Why the reference to plucking the silver and golden apples? (6)

[Need help?]

Comment on the colour imagery used in this poem. Why does the poet use these colours? (10)

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