Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
The Stolen Child – W.B. Yeats
The quote and my tattoo above are of the chorus of W.B. Yeats’ poem: The Stolen Child. It is my favorite poem and has been since my teens. The Waterboys, an English-Irish folk/rock band wrote and recorded a musical version. It is one of my favorite songs. Very haunting. I was in my early teens when I first heard the song. My sister introduced me to The Waterboys and I’ve been hooked since. I have seen them live only once, but hope to again. They never made it across the Atlantic. Their shows here consist mostly Irish or English people. I digress. I already loved them when they recorded The Glastonbury Song which mentions a village very close to my heart. An Ceathrú Rua on the Atlantic coast of Co. Galway in the West of Ireland. I spent many weeks over four years there as a teen. I went to speak Irish. I fell in love with the town. Upon discussing the latter song with one of the natives I discovered that a man from the village had been the voice on The Stolen Child. It all came full circle.
How can a poem tug on someone’s heart so much, who is not poetic? I write pieces for this blog. They are usually grammatically flawed, rife with spelling mistakes, and often not very interesting to others. In school I never did well in English class, especially poetry. The Stolen Child has for more than half my life time pulled me in. I want to be in the poem, feel the feelings, taste the tastes, smell the smells, be the essence. I want to hold every word. Turn it in my hands. Examine it slowly. Understand it completely. And its place in the poem. I want to zoom out and see it slightly removed. Zoom out more. More. More. Be with the poem from every angle possible. I know I’m missing so much of the meaning it. I would love to discuss it with William Butler Yeats. He is a fascinating person. When I was in the Gaeltacht, in An Ceathrú Rua, we took field trips. The year I was fourteen. We went to Coole Park. Friends of Yeats had own this large estate. He spent a not insignificant time there, and wrote two poems inspired by Cool Park. When I was there, maybe seventy or eighty years later I felt connected as I walked through the woodlands. I have been to many historic sites, most recently Rome. As powerful as it was to see The Colosseum, Coole Park was more significant for me. I pictured Yeats walking where I now walked. Having thoughts that later became his poetry. I am close to tears, a further twenty four years later, thinking back to that day.
I used to be so patriotic. I was going to move West to The Gaeltacht, marry a Gaeilgeoir (native Irish speaker), and have a ton of Irish speaking babies. I saw myself living my life out in Ireland. Walking around the wilds of Ireland. Dancing traditional Irish dance. Maybe learning an Irish instrument. Watching my kids play sports native to Ireland. Giving out shite to them in Irish. Even little things like doing the shop in the Irish supermarket. And on, and on. I starting going to events in Dublin (the English speaking capital) involving Irish and Irish heritage. And then I went to Chicago. Just for the summer of course. Three little months. I was twenty three. I’d be home in October and continue my life. I fell in love with Chicago. I didn’t expect that to happen. What I would later realize is that I fell in love with warm weather, hanging out with my friends all the time, and drinking heavily every day. When I got back home I applied for a green card. This resulted in me moving to The States in 2003 at age twenty five. And that was it. Goodbye Ireland. Goodbye Gaeilge. Goodbye that whole life. Goodbye Yeats. Goodbye The Waterboys. Of course Yeats and The Waterboys can be brought with, but the feeling that goes with it, the yearning to connect to the soil of my homeland does not. And now I am lost. Thousands of miles away. I will never live there again. I will never speak Irish natively. Not roam the winding stony roads of the West. Those dreams are gone. Of course replaced by other good things. My children most obviously. They will never be Irish. They will never go to the Gaeltacht. Never speak Irish. Likely never go to a céili (traditional Irish dance). Never feel what it is to be Irish. At least my version of that. Never learn the poems of Yeats or Kavanagh. The Dublin plays of Seán O’Case which I love. The do say certain words that are Ireland-related with a more Dublin tone than a Chicago one. I also speak the Cúpla Focal (couple of words) to them. Go up the stairs. What are you doing? Go to bed. And that’s likely as far as it goes. Who knows. Maybe one of them will take an interest. To follow their Irish roots. Maybe they won’t. Us Irish are unforgiving of Americans saying they’re Irish. Will they be in that group? Or because they have one Irish parent they’ll be a bit more welcome?
And so back to The Stolen Child. That beautiful poem. I admit I don’t understand it all. I have read people’s interpretation of it. I would like to form my own. I know I will carry it with me for life. One of the few things I have had this long. It will always mean home. I should mention that my kids do love the song. Hopefully as they age they will love the poem too. For me. For them. For their connection to my homeland.