“A Faery Song” by William Butler Yeats


Sung by the people of Faery over Diarmuid and Grania,
in their bridal sleep under a Cromlech.

We who are old, old and gay,
O so old!
Thousands of years, thousands of years,
If all were told:

Give to these children, new from the world,
Silence and love;
And the long dew-dropping hours of the night,
And the stars above:

Give to these children, new from the world,
Rest far from men.
Is anything better, anything better?
Tell us it then:

Us who are old, old and gay,
O so old!
Thousands of years, thousands of years,
If all were told.

I had to look up some words while reading this poem, and it is a good thing that I did, because understanding the references is key to understanding this poem. Yeats is the master of drawing on mythology when crafting his poetry, and figuring out the mythological references is necessary when attempting to uncover the hidden meaning in a Yeats’ poem.

First I looked up Diarmuid and Grania, and I learned that Diarmuid was a hero who eloped with Grania, who was betrothed to a chief named Finn. Diarmuid was then killed by a magical boar which was summoned by Finn. The other term I looked up was cromlech, which in the British Isles is a circle of standing stones, often used as a tomb (see image above). Once I understood all this, the hidden meaning of the poem became clear to me.

Basically, I interpret this as a poem about how myths are created. The Faery folk inhabit the realm of the mythical, and as such, have attained immortality, having existed “thousands of years, thousands of years.” The cromlech symbolizes two things. First, it is a portal to the realm of the Faery; second, it is a circular monument immortalizing the lives of Diarmuid and Grania. Essentially, the cromlech marks the transition from just a human story to something transcendent—an eternal myth that will live on in human consciousness.

There is one other phrase that supports this interpretation. The Faery folk state that Diarmuid and Grania are “new from the world.” This is very different from saying they are new to the world. They have just come from the world of our existence and entered the dimension of the Faery. Symbolically, this means that the story of their love and of Diarmuid’s tragic death has now become a part of the collective mythology. As a result, they too can expect to live for “thousands of years” as mythological beings within the collective human consciousness.

For a poem that lyrically seems very simple, this is very rich and complex. Whenever I read Yeats, I always approach the poem expecting there to be more that what appears on the surface. It is rare that I do not find a deeper, mystical meaning hidden within the lines and words.

Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did, and please feel free to share any thoughts or impressions.



Filed under Literature

13 responses to ““A Faery Song” by William Butler Yeats

  1. Very informative, Jeff.
    Have a blessed Solstice.

  2. Thank you, Jeff, for the Yeats moment. 🙂

  3. Alex Hurst

    A very beautiful poem. Thank you for explaining the references; they definitely help with the interpretation!

  4. Very nice explication of an oft times difficult poet, Jeff.

    The Finn you mention is Finn McCool, a legendary hunter and warrior of Irish myth. He actually had a chance to save the life of Diarmuid since water carried in Finn’s hands would be given healing powers. Finn deliberately let the water slip through his fingers before reaching Diarmuid so as not to save him. To make matters worse, Diarmuid was actually one of the Fianna: Finn’s followers! Kind of a jerk, that Finn McCool.

    • Hi Robert. Thanks for the additional info on Finn McCool! I love Yeats, but often have to seek out the meaning of some of his references. In college, I took a course on Yeats but still there is so much that I need to learn.



  5. Excellent analysis and It is so stunning that Yeats decided to write a poem on how myths are created. The meanings of the cromlech are worth highlighting as well… Such a great poem and you nailed it over here dear Jeff! All my best wishes. Aquileana 😀

    • Hi Aquileana. I thought about you as I drafted this post. I know how much you love mythology. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem as much as I did.

      I started a new job which requires a lot of reading and learning, so my posts are going to slow down for a while, but I will ramp up again as soon as I am settled in 😉


  6. Hi Kathleen. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Always nice to meet another person who appreciates Yeats 🙂

  7. Have you heard the Waterboys put Yeats to music? One of the good things in life. http://bit.ly/2aBADjk Thanks for all this info on his poetry!