Anonymous said: What are The golden apples of the sun?

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;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

- Yeats, "The Song of Wandering Aengus"

I perform literary analysis for a price (as a tutor) and this blog is more about free distribution of PDFs and MP3s, but because you asked directly I’ll give my little guess. I’m helped along by liking this poem a great deal.

I don’t know what one would definitively classify this “fire” in Aengus’ head as, but one might say it’s the burn of desire. Along those lines it might be more analogous to the low, combustive nature of the buddhist atman (or the flame) and its relationship with samsara (or desire). The flame then isn’t the material of desire but its inextinguishable precursor.

So the dude goes out and makes a fishing rod. The narrative follows that he catches a trout and prepares “the fire,” for what? My guess is cooking (but is it the fire in his head or some new, situational fire?). Suppose that Aengus is subsisting on the available material of his life, represented by the rod and the trout. I would say this trout is par-for-the-course. But the fish turns into a woman so ephemeral that she fades away immediately. This is also the first go at describing apples, so one might get the sense that an apple in this poem is being compared to the “glimmering” girl and her nature. I take it she’s the stuff of desire in its pure form; some kind of perfect, ideal hallucination of his.

Aengus is on a futile mission. He wants what is out of reach, and yet in a strange (maybe even tragic) way it actually does gives him sustenance. The vision feeds his will. Perhaps this is his self-aware declaration that he has chosen the cyclical path of the moon and the sun, passing through darkness and light always with a hand outstretched for the phantom fruit for which his carnal/mental flame burns.

All this reminds me of that famous Stirner quote:

"Because I cannot grasp the moon, is it therefore sacred to me, an Astarte? If I could only grasp you, I surely would, and, if I could only find a means to get up to you, you shall not frighten me!"

In other words, the pursuit of one’s deepest held desires is a futile gesture because the formative stage of desire depends on the untouchable nature of the object. It’s thrilling to want after things, though. I relate to the paradox, if that’s what it is.