'Supernatural Songs' by William Butler Yeats

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I. Ribh at the Tomb of Baile and Aillinn

Because you have found me in the pitch-dark night
With open book you ask me what I do.
Mark and digest my tale, carry it afar
To those that never saw this tonsured head
Nor heard this voice that ninety years have cracked.
Of Baile and Aillinn you need not speak,
All know their tale, all know what leaf and twig,
What juncture of the apple and the yew,
Surmount their bones; but speak what none have heard.

The miracle that gave them such a death
Transfigured to pure substance what had once
Been bone and sinew; when such bodies join
There is no touching here, nor touching there,
Nor straining joy, but whole is joined to whole;
For the intercourse of angels is a light
Where for its moment both seem lost, consumed.

Here in the pitch-dark atmosphere above
The trembling of the apple and the yew,
Here on the anniversary of their death,
The anniversary of their first embrace,
Those lovers, purified by tragedy,
Hurry into each other's arms; these eyes,
By water, herb and solitary prayer
Made aquiline, are open to that light.
Though somewhat broken by the leaves, that light
Lies in a circle on the grass; therein
I turn the pages of my holy book.

II. Ribh denounces Patrick

An abstract Greek absurdity has crazed the man -
Recall that masculine Trinity. Man, woman, child
(daughter or son),
That's how all natural or supernatural stories run.

Natural and supernatural with the self-same ring are wed.
As man, as beast, as an ephemeral fly begets, Godhead begets
For things below are copies, the Great Smaragdine Tablet said.

Yet all must copy copies, all increase their kind;
When the conflagration of their passion sinks, damped by the
body or the mind,
That juggling nature mounts, her coil in their embraces

The mirror-scaled serpent is multiplicity,
But all that run in couples, on earth, in flood or air, share God that is but three,
And could beget or bear themselves could they but love as He.

III. Ribh in Ecstasy

What matter that you understood no word!
Doubtless I spoke or sang what I had heard
In broken sentences. My soul had found
All happiness in its own cause or ground.
Godhead on Godhead in sexual spasm begot
Godhead. Some shadow fell. My soul forgot
Those amorous cries that out of quiet come
And must the common round of day resume.

IV. There

There all the barrel-hoops are knit,
There all the serpent-tails are bit,
There all the gyres converge in one,
There all the planets drop in the Sun.

V. Ribh considers Christian Love insufficient

Why should I seek for love or study it?
It is of God and passes human wit.
I study hatred with great diligence,
For that's a passion in my own control,
A sort of besom that can clear the soul
Of everything that is not mind or sense.

Why do I hate man, woman or event?
That is a light my jealous soul has sent.
From terror and deception freed it can
Discover impurities, can show at last
How soul may walk when all such things are past,
How soul could walk before such things began.

Then my delivered soul herself shall learn
A darker knowledge and in hatred turn
From every thought of God mankind has had.
Thought is a garment and the soul's a bride
That cannot in that trash and tinsel hide:
Hatred of God may bring the soul to God.

At stroke of midnight soul cannot endure
A bodily or mental furniture.
What can she take until her Master give!
Where can she look until He make the show!
What can she know until He bid her know!
How can she live till in her blood He live!

VI. He and She

As the moon sidles up
Must she sidle up,
As trips the scared moon
Away must she trip:
'His light had struck me blind
Dared I stop".

She sings as the moon sings:
'I am I, am I;
The greater grows my light
The further that I fly.'
All creation shivers
With that sweet cry.

VII. What Magic Drum?

He holds him from desire, all but stops his breathing lest
primordial Motherhood forsake his limbs, the child no longer
Drinking joy as it were milk upon his breast.

Through light-obliterating garden foliage what magic drum?
Down limb and breast or down that glimmering belly move
his mouth and sinewy tongue.
What from the forest came? What beast has licked its young?

VIII. Whence had they come?

Eternity is passion, girl or boy
Cry at the onset of their sexual joy
'For ever and for ever'; then awake
Ignorant what Dramatis personae spake;
A passion-driven exultant man sings out
Sentences that he has never thought;
The Flagellant lashes those submissive loins
Ignorant what that dramatist enjoins,
What master made the lash. Whence had they come,
The hand and lash that beat down frigid Rome?
What sacred drama through her body heaved
When world-transforming Charlemagne was conceived?

IX. The Four Ages of Man

He with body waged a fight,
But body won; it walks upright.

Then he struggled with the heart;
Innocence and peace depart.

Then he struggled with the mind;
His proud heart he left behind.

Now his wars on God begin;
At stroke of midnight God shall win.

X. Conjunctions

If Jupiter and Saturn meet,
What a cop of mummy wheat!

The sword's a cross; thereon He died:
On breast of Mars the goddess sighed.

XI. A Needle's Eye

All the stream that's roaring by
Came out of a needle's eye;
Things unborn, things that are gone,
From needle's eye still goad it on.

XII. Meru

Civilisation is hooped together, brought
Under a mle, under the semblance of peace
By manifold illusion; but man's life is thought,
And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
Ravening through century after century,
Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
Into the desolation of reality:
Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!
Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,
Caverned in night under the drifted snow,
Or where that snow and winter's dreadful blast
Beat down upon their naked bodies, know
That day brings round the night, that before dawn
His glory and his monuments are gone.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Supernatural Songs by William Butler Yeats: A Masterpiece of Irish Literature

If there is one thing that the Irish are known for, it is their ability to weave a story. Their tales are passed down from generation to generation and have become an integral part of their identity. This is nowhere more evident than in the works of William Butler Yeats, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets in the English language. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore Yeats' Supernatural Songs, a collection of poems that is a true masterpiece of Irish literature.


Before we delve into the poems themselves, it is important to understand the context in which they were written. Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865 and spent much of his life in Ireland. He was deeply influenced by the country's history and mythology, which he used as a backdrop for much of his work. His interest in the supernatural and the occult also played a significant role in his writing, and this is particularly evident in Supernatural Songs.

The collection was first published in 1895 and contains 13 poems. It is divided into two sections: "The Rose" and "The Wind Among the Reeds." The poems in "The Rose" are primarily focused on love and romance, while those in "The Wind Among the Reeds" explore themes such as death, rebirth, and the supernatural.


One of the things that immediately struck me when reading Supernatural Songs is Yeats' mastery of language. His use of imagery and symbolism is truly remarkable and creates a vivid and evocative landscape for the reader. Take, for example, the opening lines of "The Hosting of the Sidhe":

"The host is riding from Knocknarea And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare; Caoilte tossing his burning hair, And Niamh calling Away, come away."

These lines immediately transport the reader to a world of myth and legend. The use of alliteration and repetition creates a hypnotic rhythm that draws the reader in and sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The image of the host riding from Knocknarea, a real-life hill in County Sligo that is associated with Irish mythology, is particularly powerful. It sets the stage for the supernatural elements that are to come.

Another theme that is prominent throughout Supernatural Songs is the idea of transformation and rebirth. This is perhaps best illustrated in "The Song of Wandering Aengus," one of Yeats' most famous poems. The poem tells the story of a man who sees a beautiful woman in a meadow and falls in love with her. When she disappears, he spends the rest of his life searching for her. In the final stanza, he catches a fish that transforms into the woman he has been searching for:

"And pluck till time and times are done The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun."

This image of the fish transforming into the woman is a powerful metaphor for rebirth and transformation. It suggests that the quest for love and fulfillment is not a linear journey, but rather a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

Yeats' interest in the occult is also evident in Supernatural Songs. This is particularly true in "The Stolen Child," a haunting poem that tells the story of a child who is lured away by the faeries:

"Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand."

The poem is a reflection on the allure of the supernatural and the dangers that lie therein. The faeries are portrayed as both beautiful and dangerous, and the child is warned that he will never be able to return to the world he knows. The poem is a powerful commentary on the human desire for something beyond the mundane, and the risks that come with that desire.


In conclusion, Supernatural Songs is a true masterpiece of Irish literature. Yeats' mastery of language and imagery creates a vivid and evocative world of myth and legend. The themes of transformation, rebirth, and the occult are explored in a way that is both haunting and beautiful. Yeats' legacy as one of the greatest poets in the English language is firmly cemented by this remarkable collection of poems.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Supernatural Songs: A Journey into the Mystical World of Yeats

William Butler Yeats, the renowned Irish poet, is known for his deep and mystical poetry that explores the complexities of human existence. His poem, Supernatural Songs, is a perfect example of his ability to delve into the supernatural world and create a mystical atmosphere that captivates the reader.

Supernatural Songs is a collection of five poems that were written between 1889 and 1891. The poems are titled The Hosting of the Sidhe, The Everlasting Voices, The Dedication to a Book of Stories Selected from the Irish Novelists, Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, and The Song of Wandering Aengus. Each poem explores a different aspect of the supernatural world, from the fairy realm to the afterlife.

The Hosting of the Sidhe

The first poem in the collection, The Hosting of the Sidhe, is a hauntingly beautiful piece that explores the world of the fairies. The Sidhe, also known as the Tuatha Dé Danann, are a mythical race of beings that were said to have inhabited Ireland before the arrival of the Celts. In the poem, Yeats describes the Sidhe as a powerful and otherworldly race that can be both benevolent and malevolent.

The poem begins with the line, "The host is riding from Knocknarea," which sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The host refers to the Sidhe, who are riding out from their home on the mountain of Knocknarea. Yeats describes the Sidhe as a "shadowy people" who are "dancing to a whispered word." This creates a sense of mystery and intrigue, as if the Sidhe are performing some kind of secret ritual.

As the poem progresses, Yeats describes the Sidhe as a powerful force that can control the elements. He writes, "Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes / Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay." This suggests that the Sidhe are not only powerful, but also joyful and playful.

The Everlasting Voices

The second poem in the collection, The Everlasting Voices, explores the concept of the afterlife. Yeats describes the voices of the dead as being ever-present, even though they are no longer physically with us. He writes, "The everlasting voices speak / Aye, even the dead, they whisper still."

The poem is a reflection on the passing of time and the inevitability of death. Yeats writes, "The years had given us kindly grace / Yet the evildoer with a graceless face / Heaves down, and all his pride is gone." This suggests that no matter how powerful or important we may be in life, in death we are all equal.

The Dedication to a Book of Stories Selected from the Irish Novelists

The third poem in the collection, The Dedication to a Book of Stories Selected from the Irish Novelists, is a tribute to the Irish literary tradition. Yeats writes, "I have met them at close of day / Coming with vivid faces / From counter or desk among grey / Eighteenth-century houses."

The poem is a celebration of the Irish people and their rich cultural heritage. Yeats describes the Irish as a people who are deeply connected to their history and traditions. He writes, "And they came with a haste and a sweep / On the wings of a wind that leaps / Out of the gates of the day."

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

The fourth poem in the collection, Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, is a romantic and dreamy piece that explores the power of love. Aedh, the protagonist of the poem, wishes to give his beloved the most precious gift he can think of - the cloths of heaven.

The poem is a reflection on the power of love to transcend the material world. Yeats writes, "But I, being poor, have only my dreams / I have spread my dreams under your feet / Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." This suggests that love is not about material possessions, but about the intangible things that we hold dear.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

The final poem in the collection, The Song of Wandering Aengus, is a mystical and enchanting piece that explores the power of the imagination. Aengus, the protagonist of the poem, is a wanderer who is searching for his true love. He sees a beautiful woman in his dreams and sets out on a journey to find her.

The poem is a reflection on the power of the imagination to create our own reality. Yeats writes, "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." This suggests that our dreams and imagination can lead us on a journey of self-discovery and enlightenment.


Supernatural Songs is a collection of poems that explores the mystical and supernatural world of William Butler Yeats. Each poem is a reflection on a different aspect of the human experience, from the fairy realm to the afterlife. Yeats' use of language and imagery creates a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere that captivates the reader and transports them to a world of magic and wonder. This collection is a testament to Yeats' ability to explore the complexities of human existence and create poetry that is both profound and enchanting.

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