W.B. Yeats – Who Goes with Fergus?

This poem takes the tone of a passionate exhortation, evoking a mysterious figure in ‘Fergus’ as it asks the reader not to ‘brood on hopes and fear’. The ABCABC rhyme scheme gives a harmonious sound to the poem which compliments the lyrical imagery, without being so overpowering as to make the poem seem like a simplistic proverb or moral lesson, with all its imperative tense.

The central figure of the poem remains difficult to define; he could be read as one who has freed himself from ‘brooding’ or, as seems more likely, has been consumed by it. The insistance on ‘now’ in the first line seems to suggest that Fergus’ present state of aloneness has been recently brought about. The wildness of the ‘wood’ and ‘shore’ seem clear metaphors for the troubled, brooding psyche – ‘woven’ suggests that this mental darkness is of painstaking human construction, through the act of brooding. The connotation of pain in ‘pierce’ might reflect back on Fergus, or any other brooding person, as the emotional pain of ‘bitter’ ‘love’. There is an ominous quality to the image of the third line, suggesting both druidic devotion and insanity as contained within the idea ‘brooding’.

However, an alternative reading might see Fergus’ ‘driving’ as the carefree action of someone who has ‘pierced’ his tendancy to brood, using the word to mean ‘broken’ or ‘found a way through’. A person who now ‘dances’ on the brooding psyche as an act of defiance. This interpretation seems weaker in the light of the rest of the poem, however, and one could see it as a fault in the poem that it leaves such a contrary reading available.

The poem uses archaic language, as part of striving for a traditional, romantic ‘poetic’ style suggested by the imagery of woods, sea and stars. The tone of exhortation is achieved by anaphora, repeatedly beginning lines with ‘And’ to suggest passion and a build up of feeling. This is felt also in the repetition over lines 6 and 7. The exhortation finds its subjects in lines 4 and 5 – they are characterized in archaic terms – a ‘maid’ and a ‘young man’ with a ‘russet brow’. Yeats takes care to emphasize their youth – young love and carefree youth being offered implicitly as alternatives to ‘brooding’ in the poem. They are asked to no longer ‘turn aside’, suggesting both a physical action indicating shyness and reluctance, as well as connoting self-withdrawl and abandonment of something. Here the reading which sees Fergus as a warning rather than an example takes precedence – we see a parallel with his lonesome ‘driving’ – he seems to have ‘turned aside’ from something.

All description in the poem contributes to the image of a dark, encompassing world of ‘brooding’. The young man’s ‘russet brow’ calls to mind the opening scenes of Hamlet and the ‘dawn in russet mantle clad’ which drives Old Hamlet’s ghost away. Invoking the play brings associations of troubled youth, and ominous, mysterious darkness. It also brings forward a subdued pun in ‘shade’, suggesting the ghost of a past ‘bitter’ ‘love’ – the subject of ‘brooding’. Just as the ‘russet dawn’ banishes Old Hamlet’s ghost, the young man can banish his regret and memories by lifting his ‘russet brow’.

The final four lines of the poem show Fergus consumed by his landscape. Despite the fact that he ‘rules’ this world, the overpowering atmosphere of loneliness reminds us that this is a ‘woven’ psychological world of his own making. A sense of brooding is contained within the very fabric of this world, from the brief glimpses of a female form in the sea – too brief to certainly represent his ‘love’, but what else could a brooding mind see in it? – to the stars personified as knights errant, wandering without purpose in unrequited passion.

It would be difficult to extract any moral as such from the poem. Yeats, while offering carefree youth as a refuge, seems to imply through the persistance and potency of imagery that a state of consuming reflection and regret is inevitable. Perhaps the ambiguity surrounding Fergus’ character suggests that there is a paradoxical form of release in completely surrendering oneself to the imprisonment of one’s own mental world.



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