'The Song Of The Happy Shepherd' by William Butler Yeats

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The woods of Arcady are dead,
And over is their antique joy;
Of old the world on dreaming fed;
Grey Truth is now her painted toy;
Yet still she turns her restless head:
But O, sick children of the world,
Of all the many changing things
In dreary dancing past us whirled,
To the cracked tune that Chronos sings,
Words alone are certain good.
Where are now the warring kings,
Word be-mockers? - By the Rood,
Where are now the watring kings?
An idle word is now their glory,
By the stammering schoolboy said,
Reading some entangled story:
The kings of the old time are dead;
The wandering earth herself may be
Only a sudden flaming word,
In clanging space a moment heard,
Troubling the endless reverie.
Then nowise worship dusty deeds,
Nor seek, for this is also sooth,
To hunger fiercely after truth,
Lest all thy toiling only breeds
New dreams, new dreams; there is no truth
Saving in thine own heart. Seek, then,
No learning from the starry men,
Who follow with the optic glass
The whirling ways of stars that pass -
Seek, then, for this is also sooth,
No word of theirs - the cold star-bane
Has cloven and rent their hearts in twain,
And dead is all their human truth.
Go gather by the humming sea
Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell.
And to its lips thy story tell,
And they thy comforters will be.
Rewording in melodious guile
Thy fretful words a little while,
Till they shall singing fade in ruth
And die a pearly brotherhood;
For words alone are certain good:
Sing, then, for this is also sooth.
I must be gone: there is a grave
Where daffodil and lily wave,
And I would please the hapless faun,
Buried under the sleepy ground,
With mirthful songs before the dawn.
His shouting days with mirth were crowned;
And still I dream he treads the lawn,
Walking ghostly in the dew,
Pierced by my glad singing through,
My songs of old earth's dreamy youth:
But ah! she dreams not now; dream thou!
For fair are poppies on the brow:
Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Song Of The Happy Shepherd: A Poem That Radiates Joy and Passion

When one thinks of William Butler Yeats, one often thinks of poems that are complex, melancholic, and steeped in mythology. However, Yeats was also capable of writing poems that radiate joy and passion, and "The Song Of The Happy Shepherd" is a prime example of that.

Setting the Scene

The poem opens with the Happy Shepherd introducing himself and his idyllic surroundings. We learn that he lives in a "valley" that is "so green and deep" that it "will charm" anyone who sees it. The Happy Shepherd's description of his surroundings is so vivid that we can almost see the "little silver trout" swimming in the stream and hear the "birds with golden beaks" singing in the trees.

The Happy Shepherd's Joy

The Happy Shepherd's joy is not just confined to his surroundings, however. He is also filled with joy because of his connection to nature. He tells us that he is "the happiest of men" because he is "close to the earth." His joy is so great that he can't help but burst into song: "Oh, who would live at ease / And restful in the world, / When the wide awake West / Is burning with a restlessness / Of which you may be part?" The Happy Shepherd's song is a celebration of life and nature, and it is impossible not to be swept up in his joy and enthusiasm.

The Contrast

However, the idyllic scene is not all sunshine and roses. In the second half of the poem, the Happy Shepherd's joy is contrasted with the "restlessness" of the West. Yeats uses the West to represent the modern world, with its industrialization and urbanization, and the Happy Shepherd to represent a simpler, more natural way of life. The contrast between the two is stark, and Yeats seems to be suggesting that the modern world has lost something important in its rush to progress.

The Message

But what is the message of the poem? Is Yeats simply advocating for a return to a simpler way of life? Or is he suggesting that we need to find a way to balance progress with our connection to nature? The answer is not entirely clear, but what is clear is that Yeats is celebrating the joy and passion that can be found in nature and in a life lived close to the earth.

The Poetic Devices

One of the things that makes "The Song Of The Happy Shepherd" such a joy to read is Yeats' use of poetic devices. The poem is filled with alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme, all of which serve to make the poem more musical and more memorable. For example, consider the following lines:

"The bees that have stung me / And the honey they brought me, / The cuckoo that sung me / A song of the sorrows of love."

The repetition of the "b" and "s" sounds in these lines serves to create a musical rhythm that is both catchy and memorable. Yeats' use of poetic devices is not just for show, however. They serve a purpose: to create a sense of joy and energy that is integral to the poem.


"The Song Of The Happy Shepherd" is a poem that radiates joy and passion. Yeats' use of vivid imagery, poetic devices, and contrast serve to make the poem both memorable and thought-provoking. The Happy Shepherd's joy and connection to nature are something that we can all aspire to, and Yeats' celebration of these things is a reminder of the importance of finding joy in the simple things in life.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Song of the Happy Shepherd: A Joyful Ode to Nature and Simplicity

William Butler Yeats, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, is known for his lyrical and mystical works that explore themes of love, nature, and spirituality. Among his many poems, The Song of the Happy Shepherd stands out as a beautiful ode to the joys of rural life and the simplicity of nature. Written in 1899, this poem captures the essence of Yeats' early style, which was marked by a romantic and idealistic vision of the world.

The Song of the Happy Shepherd is a short poem consisting of six stanzas, each with four lines. The poem is written in a simple and straightforward style, with a regular rhyme scheme and meter. The speaker of the poem is a shepherd who is happy and content with his life in the countryside. He sings a song of praise to the natural world, celebrating the beauty and simplicity of his surroundings.

The poem begins with the shepherd singing about the joys of his life:

"The woods of Arcady are dead, And over is their antique joy; Of old the world on dreaming fed; Grey Truth is now her painted toy;"

Here, the speaker is lamenting the loss of the ancient world of Arcady, a mythical place associated with pastoral life and simplicity. He suggests that the world has lost its innocence and has become obsessed with materialism and superficiality. However, the shepherd is not disheartened by this change. Instead, he finds solace in the beauty of nature and the simplicity of his life.

The second stanza of the poem continues the theme of the shepherd's contentment with his life:

"We wake to find them turned to toys, For round about the woodlands sweep The dance of children and the toys Of children in the glade to leap."

Here, the speaker is describing the children who play in the woods, using the natural world as their playground. He sees their playfulness as a reflection of the joy and innocence that he finds in his own life. The toys that the children play with are a symbol of the simplicity and purity of their world, which the shepherd sees as a source of happiness.

The third stanza of the poem introduces the theme of love:

"Yet oh! 'tis strange and sweet to think, Murmuring down the narrow lane, How, with the pangs of Love, we link The joy of the unhurt again."

Here, the speaker is reflecting on the power of love to bring people together and to heal the wounds of the past. He sees love as a force that can restore the innocence and joy of the world, and he is grateful for the love that he has in his life.

The fourth stanza of the poem returns to the theme of nature:

"At every dimly-lighted porch The watch-dogs bark athwart the moon, And on the casement ledges, torch In hand, the maids a-milking croon."

Here, the speaker is describing the sounds and sights of the countryside at night. He sees the barking of the dogs and the singing of the maids as a part of the natural rhythm of life, and he finds comfort in their familiar sounds.

The fifth stanza of the poem is a celebration of the beauty of nature:

"Their shadows, in the lantern gleam, Are long and narrow, and sometimes A dog goes by and barks and dreams Of shepherd's coming home at times."

Here, the speaker is describing the shadows that are cast by the lanterns that the maids use to milk the cows. He sees these shadows as a symbol of the transience of life, and he finds beauty in their fleeting nature. The barking of the dog is a reminder of the shepherd's role in the countryside, and the dreams of the dog are a reflection of the simple pleasures of life.

The final stanza of the poem is a joyful affirmation of the shepherd's love for his life:

"And round the fire the kine and sheep Are gathered, white as drifted snow, Grey-tailed the chimney-crickets leap, And the tongs clash, and the embers glow."

Here, the speaker is describing the scene around the fire in the shepherd's home. He sees the gathering of the animals as a symbol of the harmony and peace that he finds in his life. The white color of the animals is a symbol of their purity, and the leaping of the chimney-crickets is a symbol of the joy and energy of life. The clash of the tongs and the glow of the embers are a reminder of the warmth and comfort of the shepherd's home.

In conclusion, The Song of the Happy Shepherd is a beautiful and joyful ode to the joys of rural life and the simplicity of nature. Through the voice of the shepherd, Yeats celebrates the beauty and innocence of the natural world, and he finds solace in the simple pleasures of life. The poem is a testament to the power of love, the transience of life, and the beauty of the world around us. It is a timeless work of art that continues to inspire and delight readers today.

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