A St. Patty’s edition: Song of Wandering Aengus by the chamber folk group Ceoltoiri (pronounced kyul-tory). The lyrics are from William Butler Yeats, and I have to say this may be the best setting of a poem to music I have ever heard. It was previously done by Donovan, but this version far outshines its predecessor. The singer, Connie McKenna, has an incredible voice, and the instruments are traditionally Irish (I think there’s a Celtic harp in there).
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
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.
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;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
What is the meaning of this mysterious ballad? Yeats was a lifelong devote of the occult, and it definitely has a magical aura about it. I first encountered the phrase “golden apples of the sun” in Robert Sea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! Trilogy, where the authors associate it with Eris, the Greek goddess of strife (discordia, in Latin, hence the Discordians adopting her as the most important deity), who had begun a great deal of trouble (including the Trojan War) by throwing a into a party of the other goddesses a golden apple inscribed “To the prettiest one”. The woman in this poem certainly engenders strife in the life of Aengus, who will never cease to search for her. But this article discussing the occult meaning of the poem does not mention Eris, and finds at bottom it is about, like so much of Yeats’ poetry, both Ireland and Maud Gonne.