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 a-flame,
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.
The Song of Wandering Aengus by William Butler Yeats
In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” We all understand the restless heart. In younger days, we dreamt of adventure and pursued visions which were compelling if not clear.
The so-called midlife crisis is often a season of disappointment when the evaluation of one’s life falls short of its earlier aspirations. The imago Dei – the image of God in which we are created longs for the eternal, and we finally find our footing on that fulfilling path when we turn and return to our Creator. His calling is specific and He knows us by name.
Commenting on the Yeats poem today in his book The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite says this:
A vocation is a calling, and to have a Christian vocation is to have been called, called by name. The Lord of life and love calls us out of nothingness into being, calls us out of darkness into light, and calls us, personally, to turn and begin our lives anew in him. All our lives, all our journeyings ‘through hollow lands and hilly lands’, are a response to that call. Our quest, like that of the wondering Aengus, begins at dawn and is an ‘orientation’: a turn towards the growing light. But this is not light as an abstract, it is light embodied in a person, and it calls to a vision and a realm beyond what is possible for us in this world.
What do you yearn for?
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.
D I G D E E P E R
William Butler Yeats
(1865–1939). One of Ireland’s finest writers, William Butler Yeats served a long apprenticeship in the arts before his genius was fully developed. He did some of his greatest work after he was 50 years old.
Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland, on June 13, 1865, the eldest son of an artist. Although the family soon moved to London, the children spent much time with their grandparents in County Sligo in northwestern Ireland. The scenery and folklore of this region greatly influenced Yeats’s work. For a while he studied art, but during the 1890s he became active in London’s literary life and helped found the Rhymers’ Club.
Yeats’s early work was not especially Irish. Soon, however, he began to look to the ancient rituals and pagan beliefs of the land for his artistic inspiration. He tried to merge this interest with his aristocratic tastes to create an original Irish poetry and to establish his own identity.
Believing that poems and plays would create a national unity capable of transforming the country, Yeats devoted himself to literature and drama. In his work for the Abbey, which opened in 1904, he persuaded John Millington Synge to return to Irish folklore for subject material, and Synge wrote some of the finest Irish plays ever produced. Yeats, Synge, and Lady Gregory were among the leaders of the Irish literary revival. In 1923 Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
As time passed, Yeats’s poetry became more polished and profound. “The Tower” and “The Winding Stair” were his last great poetic works. In his last years he lived on the Irish coast in an old tower that served as a symbol in much of his later poetry. In a prose work called A Vision, Yeats set forth his theories of history and of human personality. Always controversial, Yeats caused much discussion with his edition of The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, published in 1936. Some critics thought the selections in the anthology were too individualized, reflecting Yeats’s own interests and attitudes.
Yeats died on January 28, 1939, in Roquebrune, France. His body remained buried there throughout World War II, but in 1948 it was brought back to Ireland for burial in County Sligo. In a poem composed in his memory, W.H. Auden wrote, “Earth, receive an honored guest; William Yeats is laid to rest.”
“Yeats, William Butler,” Encyclopedia Britannica Noet Edition (Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015).
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.