W. B. Yeats: A Life: Volume I, The Apprentice Mage, 1865-1914

by R. F. Foster

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What is the theme of Yeats' "The Stolen Child" and its suggestion about our world?

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The conceit here is that the faeries have stolen a child, apparently a farm lad because “he’ll hear no more the lowing/Of the calves on the warm hillside.” They “invite” him, although he goes with them against his earthly will, to dance through the night, to experience the faery-world of “a leafy island” in a lake, where they have all sorts of delights for him, “faery vats/Full of berries” and “cherries,” “frothy bubbles,” etc. Their reason for stealing him is because “the world’s more full of weeping than you (an innocent child) can understand.” The poem is Yeats’ attempt to describe the differences between a child’s real life (which will eventually be “full of weeping”) and the life of fancy and faery magic and imagination that a child lives in innocence. Like much of Yeats’ poetry, it reflects Yeats’ sadness at his own life’s outcome, after his “magical” childhood of wonder and imagination in his beloved Ireland.

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