Yeats – Who Goes with Fergus? (1893)

Part of The Rose, a collection that marks a retreat from the political turmoil of the day (as well as from emotional and social problems) into the mythic Irish past and some sort of universalized nature. “Who goes with Fergus?,” which famously acts as a refrain in James Joyce’s Ulysses , directly asks youth whether they will remain focused on the immediate turmoil of romantic love, or whether they will follow king Fergus (who previously turned to the Druids and got more than he bargained for): “Who will go drive with Fergus now?” The second stanza opens, famously:

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery;

This gets picked up in Ulysses as a call to both forget the pressing demands of family life (Bloom and Molly, Stephen and mother), but also as the means by which various Irish nationalists (mourning Parnell) dream of a bygone Ireland to which there is no return. The final claim that Fergus rules “all disheveled wandering stars” links with Yeats’ many other poems that call attention to the stars’ insufficiency, such as The Song of the Happy Shepherd. Going into nature may initiate one into a knowledge deeper that that offered by the present political-social state, but that knowledge may be nothing more than a full relinquishment to contingency.

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