What is an analysis of The Land of Heart's Desire by Yeats?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Yeats' The Land of Heart's Desire demonstrates his abiding fascination with Irish folktales and ancient Celtic mythology. He regards the twilight world of fairies, banshees, and ghosts as providing an insight into the mentality of the common Irish people, the rural folk who make up the vast majority of the...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Yeats' The Land of Heart's Desire demonstrates his abiding fascination with Irish folktales and ancient Celtic mythology. He regards the twilight world of fairies, banshees, and ghosts as providing an insight into the mentality of the common Irish people, the rural folk who make up the vast majority of the population of Ireland. Far from seeing such folk beliefs as nothing more than crude superstition, Yeats regards them as a source of enduring wisdom to be handed down from generation to generation.

In telling the tale of Mary, whose obsession with ancient mythology leads to her spirit being led away by a lost child to the Land of Heart's Desire, it's notable that Yeats presents the Catholic Church and its beliefs as incapable of saving Mary's soul. The mysterious child, through open expressions of disgust, has managed to persuade Father Hart to remove a crucifix from the wall. Once this is done, Mary is vulnerable to her mysterious powers. With the crucifix out of the way, the lost child can now work her spell on Mary's soul.

What Yeats appears to be suggesting here is that the old folk beliefs are stronger and more enduring than the Irish people's attachment to formal religion, especially the majority Catholic religion. On this reading, Catholicism may invest the lives of ordinary people with an outward sense of purpose and direction, but it cannot aspire to the same degree of spiritual depth as the ancient legends. When push comes to shove, it's the old beliefs that prevail, more deeply rooted as they are in Ireland's native soil.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Yeats’s play is about how a new bride, fascinated by tales of faeries, is eventually taken to the faery world by a faery child whom she welcomes into her home. There are several ways to understand the play.

The play can be read as a testament to the power of myth in the Irish imagination. Mary, the newlywed, is transfixed by a book about faeries she finds in her new home; given the poor nature of the cottage she must share not only with her husband but also with his quick-to-criticize parents, the faery stories offer her a way to escape reality.

The figure of the priest, who is summoned to convince Mary to abandon her interest in faeries, represents the role of religion in Irish life, which is placed in opposition to the faery world. It is only when the priest, at the request of the faery child, removes the crucifix that the child gains its full power and is able to take Mary away. This can be understood either as a failure of faith or as a commentary on the inability of the church to protect Mary—and, in turn, its ineffectiveness in Irish life.

Mary and her husband live in great poverty, and it is clear that the life Mary has ahead of her will offer little hope for change. Her fascination with faeries, then, is an expression of an alternate political or social reality; the faery world is a kind of folkloric response to the social and economic forces that oppress the Irish people.

The chief complaint Bridget has about Mary’s daydreaming about faeries is that she is not doing the work a wife should be doing. Another way of thinking about the faery world is as an escape from traditional gender roles. The faery child, welcomed into the home as a helpless child, is in fact more powerful than all the adults; this power can be thought of as a kind of suppressed feminine power, and Mary’s departure to the faery world as an escape from patriarchy.

Finally, the play can simply be understood as the story of a suicide. Mary’s “escape” into the faery world results in her lifeless body being left behind; faeries notwithstanding, it does seem that she is dead. This death is symbolic of larger issue facing Irish society: namely, the tendency to retreat from reality into fantasy.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This play by Yeats is closely linked to his love of his Irish homeland and the various myths and legends that circulate there concerning faeries and a kind of faeryland where humans were tempted to enter. Interestingly, this was the first of the plays of Yeats to be performed publicly, and it ran in London for about six weeks.

The play concerns itself with the key themes of hopes and dreams and age. Shawn and Maire Bruin are a couple who have recently married. They live in a cottage with Shawn's parents. A faery child enters their life, and is initially welcomed with opened arms by the Bruin household. However, it is clear that there is something suspicious about this child as she stands against Christianity and denounces God. In particular, her function seems to be to focus on how brief life is for humans to try and lure Maire into the faery world where she will know no death and suffering:

Where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood,
But joy is wisdom, Time an endless song.
I kiss you and the world begins to fade.

Although Shawn does his best to try and convince Maire to stay with him, the faery child does kiss her and she dies in Shawn's arms as she is seduced by the thought of life in the faery world and free from human responsibility. Themes of growing old and escape from the burdens of life are therefore key in this play that uses so much of the traditional tales of Irish mythology. 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team