The Song of Wandering Aengus Meaning and Levels of Understanding

You will find many people searching for the meaning of the W. B. Yeats poem The Song of Wandering Aengus. The term searched for in Google is “song of wandering aengus meaning.”

It interests me that included in that search term is what we call “the search intention.” This is that the searcher is engaged in a search for meaning.

In reality, this is probably not the case. Rather than true meaning, they are searching for information.

However, I would like to explore the different levels at which we can understand the meaning of the poem Song of Wandering Aengus.

To support this exploration, I include the menu below.

The Interpretation Menu

Part I

  • Intellectual Level
  • Heart Level
    • o   Sentimental

Part II

  • Heart Level
    • o   Longing and Belonging
  • Soul Level.

In this way, I hope that the search intention moves from one driven from intellectual understanding to the expansive invitation to explore this poem as a guide to self-discovery and revelation.

The Intellectual Meaning

understanding the song of wandering aengus

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I suspect that many of these searches for the meaning of the poem Song of Wandering Aengus are from young people needing to study the poem to satisfy some aspect of a school curriculum.

This is what W. B. Yeats referred to as “Filling the pail.”

Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire—W. B. Yeats

I took up sharing my understanding of this poem when a young man asked me what it meant. He was studying this poem at the time and when he asked the teacher to explain its meaning the reply was, “I don’t know.”

I often wonder why they teach the poetry of W. B. Yeats in schools to young people. For many, it is something they endure and forget. In this way, it reduces the transformational language of myth and poetry to logic.

All real education is the architecture of the soul – William Bennett

As a result, they may never KNOW the excitement of the invitation from the language of the heart and soul that is mythology and mystical poetry.

Education is Lighting A Fire

education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

The intellect has its place, but it is not the tool for understanding mythological and mystical poetry. The intellect can explain the structure of poetry. It can explain the historical context of the poem. It can introduce you to mythology as an idea.

What can be explained is not poetry – W. B. Yeats

Mythology is the language of the soul. Logic is the language of the mind. (From Beyond the Mist – What Irish Mythology Can Teach Us About Ourselves – Peter O’Connor).

Using the intellect to understand poems like The Song of Wandering Aengus is like going to a high-class restaurant and reading the menu.

You can learn about mythology, but if it does not take you into the direct experience of the soul, then it is simply gaining more intellectual information. It might interest and inform, but you miss its true function of transformation.

Remember, that poets, and especially poets of the caliber of W. B. Yeats, do not write poems to fill you up with information. They write poems to remind you about the transformational journey that Life creates you to explore.

A #poet is someone who can pour light into a cup, then raise it to nourish your beautiful parched, holy mouth. ― Hafiz Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, an intellectual appreciation of this poem is as far as most people will journey.

They take the poem as a signpost and all they do is cling to it. To use a metaphor from another W. B. Yeats poem they “Stay on the pavements grey.” (The Lake Isle of Innisfree). They resist the journey of arising and taking the adventure into freedom.

I will arise and go now and go to Innisfree – W. B. Yeats

This is a poem that you can view on different levels.

Heart Level – Sentimental

i will find out where she has gone and kiss her lips and take her hand

Photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash

I have read many interpretations of this poem. The level of sentimentality is the level at which people are invited to understand this poem.

To paraphrase a longer interpretation that I found on the web (whose identity will remain a secret) here is what the poem The Song of the Wandering Aengus means.

This is a story told by Wandering Aengus. He is an old man. He remembers a day that he went fishing and he saw a girl who ran away. He is remembering what he would do if ever he found her again. Wandering Aengus and she would eat the silver and golden apples.

This is enough to make me weep.  This interpretation is like the outline for a sad Hollywood movie script.

There may be more to this interpretation than the pure intellectual understanding.  You might identify with the character of Aengus in the sense that you remember someone who caught your eye.

You might feel his longing to find this girl and in the way of a good Hollywood romance and hope that they live happily ever after.

The question I ask is this. “Who wants to be an old man remembering his one time glimpse of a girl you saw one twilight evening when you were fishing in a stream in a hazel wood?”  If that is all you have left at the end of your life, then it really is sad.

However, let’s hope he never finds her.

Can you imagine the pressure on someone to fulfill someone else’s lifelong dream? I hope she can still run and fade into the brightening air any time that Wandering Aengus comes close.

If you want to find the real meaning of this poem you have to move from the intellect, beyond sentimentality and into the longing to KNOW who and why you are.

So let’s go exploring the genuine invitation and meaning of The Song of Wandering Aengus and why it matters to you.

The Song of Wandering Aengus Meaning – Part II

The Longing of the Heart

Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear

If the longing of sentimental love is all that the Song of Wandering Aengus taught, then it would not have lasted as long as it has. So let us explore what this poem is really inviting and why that is important in your life  – whether you know it.

This is not the interpretation they will teach you in school.

This is because the teacher has probably not lived the Breakthrough Experience and thus cannot impart it to you.

It is the same with religion. You have most teachers of religion trying to impart what they do not know and have never had the direct experience of.

My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The reason I share this with you is to ensure that I make you aware of the genuine and glorious invitation from this poem. This is even if this understanding remains intellectual. At least you will have a clearer intellectual understanding of what is being invited.

This is a poem about you and certain aspects of the journey of self-discovery that you will take or maybe not take in finding the meaning and purpose of your life.

The essential invitation of this poem is to what they call The Breakthrough Experience. This is a stage of the journey of life that I hope you are blessed with and from. (Vacillation IV – W. B. Yeats)

Here is a verse of a poem that shares the Breakthrough Experience.

Map of Life’s Journey

what can be explained is not poetry - w b yeats

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This poem covers the essential steps of your life’s journey. These are:-

  • The Call to Adventure—I went out
  • The  Search—I threw a berry in a stream.
  • The Breakthrough—It had become a glimmering girl.
  • The Road of Trials—Hollow Lands and Hilly Lands.
  • The Boon—The Silver Apples of the Moon, the Golden Apples of the Sun.

There is another stage in the journey of self-discovery called The Return.

This is where you return with the gifts of KNOWING of eternity which your heart now longs to share with everyone willing to listen.

W. B. Yeats does not share this Stage of Life (The Return) because Wandering Aengus remains on the Road of Trials and appears not to have ever eaten of the apples of gold and silver. It is the same with Moses who never made it to The Promised Land.

This is your story.

It is the same story invited in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, and The Matrix. This is the central story of what it means to be human and is a map of the journey to self-realization.

This is not the way they teach you how to understand this poem in school. It becomes an exercise in what my teacher Osho  referred to as “Logic chopping.”

To live this story of self-discovery is the true longing of the heart. This is not sentimentality. This is longing to become all the Universe creates you become.

The heart knows the way.  Rumi says it this way.

There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don’t you? ― #Rumi Click To Tweet

The void that Rumi speaks about is your inability to communicate with your soul. The glimmering girl is a symbol of your soul connection. It is not a young lady who you fancy.

Mystics will tell you only one glimpse of this soul connection is needed and you will spend the rest of your days searching to find that experience again. Without such a glimpse most people will walk the world living lives of quiet desperation.

This is an experience of heart longing. Only this is not an experience of absence. It is a progressive journey into true fulfillment.

At least a glimpse of “the glimmering girl” lets you KNOW what is worth pursuing.

The Level of the Soul

my soul is an enchanted boat Percy Bysshe Shelley

My soul is an Enchanted Boat – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Image by My pictures are CC0. When doing composings: from Pixabay

The Song of Wandering Aengus meaning only unfolds at the level of the soul. Soul experience is the KNOWING of eternity. In this poem Yeats’s symbolizes eternity as the eating of the Golden Apples of the Sun.

Your journey on this planet has one primary purpose.

This is to KNOW that you are the eternal expression of Love expressing through the limited form of the body.  To KNOW this is to experience Heaven on Earth.

The poem The Song of Wandering Aengus seeks to remind you of this.  If you get lost, as most people do, in interpreting this poem through “Logic chopping” you are wasting your time.

If all you do is “fill the pail” and never get to know the “fire in the head experience” then your education is doing you a disservice. At least recognize the limited invitation being offered from such an interpretation of this poem.

Those of us who KNOW the connection to the soul only want one thing for you. This is to give you the experience of the glimmering girl.  This will change your worldview.  You will then know who and why you are.

This will be a real challenge, but it is the one the Universe has created you to realize in a unique way. As the mystic poet Goethe says in his poem The Holy Longing.

And if you have not know this, then you are but a troubled guest on this dark earth – Goethe.

This realization of holy longing is what The Song of Wandering Aengus is attempting to point toward.  This is the longing to be whole and live as an expression of the Timeless within time.

The Glimmering Girl with Apple Blossom never leaves you.  Finding her is an inner journey of self-discovery. It is a journey of paradox. It is a journey of revelation. It requires you to do the inner work of Companioning Your Greatness.

To learn more about the invitation from the Song of Wandering Aengus added a section I hope you will be encouraged to explore.

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