The Shadowy Waters: The Shadowy Waters

William Butler Yeats 1865 (Sandymount) – 1939 (Menton)

A Dramatic Poem

The deck of an ancient ship.  At the right of the stage is the mast,
with a large square sail hiding a great deal of the sky and sea
on that side.  The tiller is at the left of the stage; it is a long oar
coming through an opening in the bulwark.  The deck rises in a
series of steps hehind the tiller, and the stern of the ship curves
overhead.  When the play opens there are four persons upon the
deck.  Aibric stands by the tiller.  Forgael sleeps upon the raised
portion of the deck towards the front of the stage.  Two Sailors
are standing near to the mast, on which a harp is hanging.

First Sailor. Has he not led us into these waste seas
     For long enough?

Second Sailor.    Aye, long and long enough.

First Sailor. We have not come upon a shore or ship
     These dozen weeks.

Second Sailor.    And I had thought to make
     A good round Sum upon this cruise, and turn -
     For I am getting on in life - to something
     That has less ups and downs than robbery.

First Sailor. I am so tired of being bachelor
     I could give all my heart to that Red Moll
     That had but the one eye.

Second Sailor.         Can no bewitchment
     Transform these rascal billows into women
     That I may drown myself?

First Sailor.          Better steer home,
     Whether he will or no; and better still
     To take him while he sleeps and carry him
     And drop him from the gunnel.

Second Sailor.              I dare not do it.
     Were't not that there is magic in his harp,
     I would be of your mind; but when he plays it
     Strange creatures flutter up before one's eyes,
     Or cry about one's ears.

First Sailor.          Nothing to fear.

Second Sailor. Do you remember when we sank that
     At the full moon?

First Sailor.     He played all through the night.

Second Sailor. Until the moon had set; and when I looked
     Where the dead drifted, I could see a bird
     Like a grey gull upon the breast of each.
     While I was looking they rose hurriedly,
     And after circling with strange cries awhile
     Flew westward; and many a time since then
     I've heard a rustling overhead in the wind.

First Sailor. I saw them on that night as well as you.
     But when I had eaten and drunk myself asleep
     My courage came again.

Second Sailor.         But that's not all.
     The other night, while he was playing it,
     A beautiful young man and girl came up
     In a white breaking wave; they had the look
     Of those that are alive for ever and ever.

First Sailor. I saw them, too, one night.  Forgael was
     And they were listening ther& beyond the sail.
     He could not see them, but I held out my hands
     To grasp the woman.

Second Sailor.    You have dared to touch her?

First Sailor. O she was but a shadow, and slipped from

Second Sailor. But were you not afraid?

First Sailor.                    Why should I fear?

Second Sailor. "Twas Aengus and Edain, the wandering
     To whom all lovers pray.

First Sailor.          But what of that?
     A shadow does not carry sword or spear.

Second Sailor. My mother told me that there is not one
     Of the Ever-living half so dangerous
     As that wild Aengus.  Long before her day
     He carried Edain off from a king's house,
     And hid her among fruits of jewel-stone
     And in a tower of glass, and from that day
     Has hated every man that's not in love,
     And has been dangerous to him.

First Sailor.                    I have heard
     He does not hate seafarers as he hates
     Peaceable men that shut the wind away,
     And keep to the one weary marriage-bed.

Second Sailor. I think that he has Forgael in his net,
     And drags him through the sea,

First Sailor                Well, net or none,
     I'd drown him while we have the chance to do it.

Second Sailor. It's certain I'd sleep easier o' nights
     If he were dead; but who will be our captain,
     Judge of the stars, and find a course for us?

First Sailor. I've thought of that.  We must have Aibric
          with us,
     For he can judge the stars as well as Forgael.

                                   [Going towards Aibric.]

     Become our captain, Aibric.  I am resolved
     To make an end of Forgael while he sleeps.
     There's not a man but will be glad of it
Font size:
Collection  PDF     

Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on April 26, 2023

3:49 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 4,251
Words 751
Stanzas 31
Stanza Lengths 1, 9, 2, 1, 2, 4, 3, 3, 4, 5, 1, 3, 1, 7, 3, 5, 5, 1, 2, 1, 1, 3, 2, 8, 4, 2, 2, 3, 3, 1, 3

William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. more…

All William Butler Yeats poems | William Butler Yeats Books

8 fans

Discuss the poem The Shadowy Waters: The Shadowy Waters with the community...



    Find a translation for this poem in other languages:

    Select another language:

    • - Select -
    • 简体中文 (Chinese - Simplified)
    • 繁體中文 (Chinese - Traditional)
    • Español (Spanish)
    • Esperanto (Esperanto)
    • 日本語 (Japanese)
    • Português (Portuguese)
    • Deutsch (German)
    • العربية (Arabic)
    • Français (French)
    • Русский (Russian)
    • ಕನ್ನಡ (Kannada)
    • 한국어 (Korean)
    • עברית (Hebrew)
    • Gaeilge (Irish)
    • Українська (Ukrainian)
    • اردو (Urdu)
    • Magyar (Hungarian)
    • मानक हिन्दी (Hindi)
    • Indonesia (Indonesian)
    • Italiano (Italian)
    • தமிழ் (Tamil)
    • Türkçe (Turkish)
    • తెలుగు (Telugu)
    • ภาษาไทย (Thai)
    • Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)
    • Čeština (Czech)
    • Polski (Polish)
    • Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian)
    • Românește (Romanian)
    • Nederlands (Dutch)
    • Ελληνικά (Greek)
    • Latinum (Latin)
    • Svenska (Swedish)
    • Dansk (Danish)
    • Suomi (Finnish)
    • فارسی (Persian)
    • ייִדיש (Yiddish)
    • հայերեն (Armenian)
    • Norsk (Norwegian)
    • English (English)


    Use the citation below to add this poem to your bibliography:


    "The Shadowy Waters: The Shadowy Waters" STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 16 Apr. 2024. <>.

    Become a member!

    Join our community of poets and poetry lovers to share your work and offer feedback and encouragement to writers all over the world!

    April 2024

    Poetry Contest

    Join our monthly contest for an opportunity to win cash prizes and attain global acclaim for your talent.

    Special Program

    Earn Rewards!

    Unlock exciting rewards such as a free mug and free contest pass by commenting on fellow members' poems today!



    Are you a poetry master?

    "I celebrate myself, and sing myself."
    A William Wordsworth
    B Billy Collins
    C Countee Cullen
    D Walt Whitman