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Stolen Child in music

Leggi in italiano

Stolen Child is the poem written by W. B. Yeats (in The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, 1889) in which a fairy rapture is described. Yeats was a scholar of Irish mythology and a passionate collector of fairy tales and legends (he published Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry in 1888 and Fairy Folk Tales of Ireland in 1892)

Fairy Kidnappings

Fairies are not benevolent creatures at all, attracted by the strength and vitality of mankind, they kidnap children and especially newborns, or seduce (for the purpose of kidnapping) beautiful girls and boys.

The Fairy Kidnappings were once an attempt to rationalize the pain of an devastating death, when he catches life still in bud. There was consolation in thinking that the fairies had stolen that young life from a sad destiny, according to the ancient religion only those who are dear to the gods die young!

We also tried to explain abnormal behaviors, such as autism or depression, so it was said that the returned abductees had lost their soul, because they had tasted the food of the fairies!

Stolen Child


Tales, fairy tales and ballads of the Celtic tradition are rich in fairy Kidnappings and describe a wide range of situations to warn the unfortunates: you must never stop on a high grass lawn and inside a circle of mushrooms because they are enchanted rings, doors to the other world; never fall asleep at the foot of a hill because it could be a fairy mound, home of the elven castle. But the biggest danger is the food of the fairies, because those who taste it retain a poignant desire very often fatal.

Co SLIGO: fairy waters

Slish Wood and Lough Gill, Co. Sligo (from here)

The poem is set in the county of Sligo, where the poet spent most of his time, “his spiritual homeland”, “land of desires and hearts!” and precisely at Lough Gill, a dragon-shaped lake, full of islets.

In the poem he also describes two other places beloved by fairies: Rosses Point in the Bay of Sligo and the Glencar waterfall halfway between Sligo and Manorhamilton, in the county of Leitrim.

These are the waters where the county’s fairies go to have fun, the lakes of Gill, where on the island of Innisfree they accumulate provisions and make feast, then the Bay of Sligo on whose sand they love to dance in the moonlight, chasing the surf. And finally the Glencar waterfall where they play treats to the trout and take a shower under the ferns.

Anya Yalin

Stolen Child by the English composer Cyril Rootham op 38

Stolen child in Folk Revival

Loreena McKennitt gave fame to poetry in the field of folk music, with her debut-album of 1985. It will then be her signature style in giving us a musical version of the most beautiful ballads or poems of the past.

Elemental, 1985
Nights From The Alhambra 2007
live recording

Cuan Alainn (=Beautiful Harbour) in Russian -Yeats’ poem translated by Gregory Kruzhkova for info about the video making

The folk-rock version of the Waterboys dates back to 1988: they put the “refrain” into music, leaving the speech on the strophes (voice by Tomas Mac Eoin)

Merrymouth from “Simon Fowlers Merrymouth” 2012, music composed by Simon Fowler/ Dan Sealey /Mike Mcnamara 

Stolen Child lyrics

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood (1) in the lake
There lies a leafy island (2)
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats
There we’ve hid our fairy vats
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.


Come away oh 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 (3)

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light
By far off furthest Rosses (4)
We foot it all the night
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles
Whilst the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above glen car (5)
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star (6)
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears (7)
Give them unquiet dreams
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams

Away with us he’s going
The solemned eyed
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace unto his breast
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.

For he comes, the 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.

1) Sleuth Wood is Slish Wood,  “Sleuthwood by the lake”, once a dense oak forest along the southern shores of Lake Gill, most of the trees were cut down to provide the timber needed for the war efforts of World War II. The forest descends steeply to meet the water between large boulders covered with moss.

2) Innisfree (‘Isle of Heather’) uninhabited island in the Lough Gill where Yeats wanted to live in a small cottage

3) the attitude of the fairies is compassionate, the fate of the child (or the world of men) is cruel and they dont’ want to make him suffer.

4) Rosses Point is a beach in Sligo Bay, (on the opposite side of the lake) a popular holiday resort of the Yeats family: a small strip of sand and a grassy expanse behind it. At the northern corner of Rosses there is a small promontory of sand, rocks and grass: no wise peasant would fall asleep at his feet for fear of a fairy rapture.

5) it is the Glencar waterfall near the lake of the same name, in the county of Leitrim. When the wind blows from the west, instead of falling, the water rises towards the sky. For this reason, the waterfall is also called “the devil’s chimney”. Actually there are two waterfalls, the highest and most imposing one and the lower and more modest one, set between the rocks and the foliage with a stepped pool.

6) the patches of water are so small that they hardly reflect the stars of the sky.

7) Although the fish do not have the outer ear, they are nevertheless able to hear: the organs of hearing are located in the back of the skull (inner ear). Fish perceive sounds that have a frequency between 16 and 7,000 hertz.

Clann Stolen Child from Seelie a KIN Fables trilogy: Kin, Salvage, Requiem


Pubblicato da Cattia Salto

Amministratore e folklorista di Terre Celtiche Blog. Ha iniziato a divulgare i suoi studi e ricerche sulla musica, le danze e le tradizioni d'Europa nel web, dapprima in maniera sporadica e poi sempre più sistematicamente sul finire del anni 90 tramite il sito dell'associazione L'ontano []

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