Poem of the Week

How Can Stolen Children Be Explained?

William Butler Yeats suggests fairies, for 'the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand'.

“We foot it all the night,” dancing fairies by William Blake.
“We foot it all the night,” dancing fairies by William Blake. Wikipedia

The Stolen Child

William Butler Yeats

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we've hid our faery vats,
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
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.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
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.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
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.

Away with us he's going,
The solemn-eyed:
He'll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest
For he comes, the human child
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand
From a world more full of weeping than he can understand

From “The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems,” 1889

Is a missing child dead – or stolen? A terrible question, but the human heart strives to believe that the child must remain alive, somehow, even elsewhere. the Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) imagines a child stolen by the narrating fairy, alive in known places – Sleuth Wood, Rosses and Glen-Car are in County Sligo, Ireland. In the first stanza the child enjoys succulent food – berries and cherries; in the second, he dances and plays and in the third, makes mischief and dominates nature by giving fish bad dreams. He is free of the troubles of “a world more full of weeping than you can understand,” unlike his simple, bereft family in the final stanza.

(Yeats retells only half of an old Irish myth.The other half has fairies who steal children leaving behind one of their own, often very beautiful, a wild and unpredictable changeling; hence in days gone by, children with development disabilities, particularly autism, were said to be “fairy children.”)

During the early years of the state (and possibly before) some immigrant families were told that their babies had died. Some believe they were stolen by an establishment conspiracy and given away, sold or spirited abroad for nefarious research experiments. In 2001, a committee of inquiry into such reports from Yemenite families rejected claims of "an all-inclusive establishment plot" to take children away from immigrants and hand them over to childless Ashkenazi families. But the story persisted, expanding to children of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

William Butler Yeats, photographed in 1903 by Alice Boughton.
Wikipedia

This July, Minister Tzahi Hangebi, tasked with investigating the issue, said there was no “smoking gun” in the sealed documents connected to the narrative he had examined, but confirmed that “a large number of children disappeared,” not because of “negligence or sporadic mistakes,” but “deliberately".

This month, Ashkenazi families contacted Ofer Aderet of Haaretz with similar stories of mysteriously missing children.

Did the children really die, and if not, what happened? It’s unlikely they were abducted by fairies..

*Bonus: Canadian musician Loreena McKennitt sings “The Stolen Child

Loreena McKennitt sings “The Stolen Child YouTUbe