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W.B. Yeats Poetry | The Stolen Child

winwoodedu | Wednesday September 21, 2011

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Context

First published in 1886 when Yeats was 21. This poem is set in County Sligo where Yeats spent part of his childhood; some actual locations mentioned illustrate Yeats’ fond reminiscing about his childhood – Yeats has a tendency to romanticise childhood.

The poem also illustrates Yeats’ interest in Irish mythology – the story of a child abducted by ‘faeries’. This feeds into many cultures’ fears of loss of children; also the story of changeling children (a human child abducted and replaced with faery child).

There is a possible link to the later Peter Pan story where children leave their human family to join supernatural beings (Peter Pan itself was not published until 1902). In The Stolen Child the difference is that this is an escape to Faeryland rather than from the human world – the child leaves willingly for a better place/life.

The County Sligo locations are as follows:

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  • Sleuth Wood – also called Slish Wood; in Irish ‘sliu’ means slope and ‘slius’ means ‘inclined’ so there is a description within the word.
  • Rosses – a seaside village 5 miles from Sligo, a Yeats family holiday destination.
  • Glen-Car – a glen between Ben Bulben and Cope’s Mountain.

Structure

4 Stanzas:

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  • Stanza 1 - 12 lines
  • Stanza 2 – 15 lines
  • Stanza 3 – 14 lines
  • Stanza 4 – 12 lines
  • Each stanza ends with a 4 line refrain which is identical in the 1st 3 stanzas with a slight change in stanza 4. The repetition of this refrain gives a definite feeling of structure to the poem – Yeats is constantly returning to the idea of the child being removed.

Stanza 1

This stanza contains natural imagery to bring to mind the rural nature of much of Ireland – this adds usefully also to the qualities of the narrator’s voice. The images include ‘rocky highland’, ‘Sleuth Wood in the lake’, ‘leafy island’, ‘flapping herons’, ‘drowsy water-rats’. This stanza lacks a human element: people are absent from the...


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