Monday, November 19, 2007

The Fairies by William Allingham

The Fairies

Up the airy mountains
Down the rushy Glen,
We dare not go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And a white owl's feather.

Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow-tide foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain-lake
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
All night awake.

High on the hill-top
The old King sits;
He is now so old and gray
He's nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
From Slieveleague to Rosses;
Or going up with music,
On cold starry nights,
To sup with the Queen,
Of the gay Northern Lights.

They stole little Bridget,

For seven years long;
When she came down again
All her friends were gone.
They took her lightly back
Between the night and morrow;
They thought she was fast asleep,
But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
Deep within the lake
On a bed of flag leaves
Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hill-side
Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn trees
For pleasure here and there.
Is any man so daring
As dig them up in spite?
He shall find the thornies
In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountains
Down the rushy glen,
We dare not go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And a white owl's feather.
--William Allingham

I really like this poem -- especially the first and last stanza. It really shows the contradictory feelings people had for the Fairies. On one hand, they were a source of good luck and might do your housework or take care of your farm and animals. On the other hand, if offended, they may take your luck away, cause mischief, make your farm or animals wither and die, or even steal the children. Like luck itself, they were never referred to directly. They were carefully called "Fair folk" or "Good Folk" or some other euphemism (with an emphasis on the "eu"). I think it's fascinating to learn what traditions and superstitions can be traced back to the Fairies.

The rhythm of this is an easy jogging pace. It's the sort of thing you could chant as you went hunting (somewhere safe), or perhaps it brings to mind the little men "trooping all together." The rhythm is broken in the middle by the line, "They stole little Bridget" which is not part of any stanza or rhyme scheme either. By making this line stand out and break the mood as well as the rhythm, the author is reminding us that the fairies are not simply magical--they're dangerous, and unpredictable. I like that.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. The opening and closing stanzas were made famous by their ominous reading in the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). I had never heard the whole poem till now. And I like your analysis, too.

    I tried reading it aloud, and I think I've found a good rhythm, but you are right, it's tricky.

    Again, thank you.