So a poem is in my head today, and I thought of you.
The Song of Wandering Aengus - W. B. Yeats
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 someone 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.
This is what happens when you carve a hazel wand to use as a fishing rod. You catch a magic trout who turns into a glimmering girl who calls you by your name.
Not much on her beauty, my friends, but the repeated bliss of her magically knowing his name. It is nice to be known, to be called out specially by the uncanny.
And what a fantasy of certainty and conviction. Certain that he needs her, convinced he’ll find her. Then five full lines on what that pleasure will look like and how long it will last.
It’s a story about a god of Irish Mythology, Aengus, understood to be a god of love and poetic inspiration. I think Yeats made up this particular story, but his theme sure is looking for one's love and having a blissful reunion. Also, a lot of bloody kin-killing.
His story begins when the Dagda (and important father god) had an affair with Nechtan’s wife, Boann. To hide the affair, the Dagda made the sun stand still for nine months so that Aengus was conceived, gestated, and born on the same day.
When he grew up, Aengus tricked the Dagda out of his grand home, the Brú na Boinne (famed for its passage tombs). He arrived after the Dagda had divided his land among his children. There was nothing left. So Aengus asked dad if he could live in Brú for "a day and a night", and the Dagda agreed. But Irish has no indefinite article so “a day and a night” is identical to “day and night,” so Aengus, pointing this out, took possession of the Brú permanently. Theft by grammatical interpretation!
Aengus famously killed his step-father for killing his foster-father; slew a poet for lying about his brother’s sex life; killed his foster mother for jealously turning a horse goddess into a pool of water, etc.
He fell in love with a girl he had seen in his dreams. His mother searched Ireland for her for a year, then his father the Dagma did the same. A year later the King of Munster found out where she was.
Aengus went to the lake of the Dragon's Mouth and found a hundred and fifty girls chained up in pairs, with his girl, Caer, among them. The girls were regularly turned into swans and Aengus was told he could marry Caer if he could identify her as a swan. Aengus did, then turned himself into a swan, and the two flew away, singing. Their song put all listeners asleep for three days.
Aengus had a foster son Diarmuid, who died young. Aengus took his body back to the Brú where he breathed life into it whenever he wanted to talk.
Shall we worry about shame and money, health and the health of our friends? Or shall we spend some time with Aengus, doing things he might have done? Lately I've been thinking of the sea-dark wine, and the winedark sea. The sea cold fish and the fishcold sea. It does the trick, poor Odyssus wasting all that time in clever exiles, weeping on the shore when we first meet him. Penelope weeping in their bed.
Today though, Aengus and his transformations. Well, I guess I just felt like talking. Hope you are well. Check out my new website if you want jennifermichaelhecht.com. Don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.