Who Goes with Fergus?

97px-William_Butler_Yeats_by_John_Butler_Yeats_1900

Ok, so I’ve changed the name of my blog to Who Goes with Fergus?, the title of a great early poem by W.B. Yeats. If you haven’t read his earlier work then try this as a taster and you’ll be hooked in no time. There is so much escapism in his early poems, especially everything up to The Wind Among the Reeds, that it rivals The Lord of the Rings. I could get more out of this one short poem than a whole chapter of Tolkien. It also beats any drug out there, it brings so much pleasure and is so mind altering. The imagery is so powerful and original and the music is so sweet.

In case you don’t know, Fergus is an ancient Irish king who gives up power in order to go dwell in the wilderness. He passes his kingship on to his son, Conchobar.  Here is the poem:

Who Goes with Fergus?

By W.B. Yeats

Who will go drive with Fergus now, 
And pierce the deep wood's woven shade, 
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow, 
And lift your tender eyelids, maid, 
And brood on hopes and fear no more. 

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love's bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars, 
And rules the shadows of the wood, 
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars.

If you read the lines slowly, over and over again, the poem transports you to another place. It is a truly mind altering experience, even a life changing one. It shows us that there is a whole world available to us which we largely ignore. I’m talking about imagination, of course. However, as is the case with much of Yeats’ poetry, there is a contrary at work also. Fergus gives up power but in the second stanza Yeats lists everything that Fergus ‘rules’ now. The suggestion is that he can’t escape his past. He will always be a king, even in the wilderness. Yeats is perhaps indicating that we cannot give ourselves to imagination completely. That we still must deal with the ‘real’ world.

Hopefully if you had never read this poem before now, you will have found it a richly rewarding experience and have been turned on to more of Yeats’ early work.

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