The poem is a dialogue between the aged Irish hero Oisín (pronounced Usheen) and St. Patrick, the man traditionally responsible for converting Ireland to Christianity. Most of the poem is spoken by Oisin, relating his three-hundred year sojourn in the isles of Faerie.
Oisin has not been a popular poem with critics influenced by modernism, who dislike its pre-Raphaelite character. However, Harold Bloom defended this poem in his book-length study of Yeats, and concludes that it deserves reconsideration.
The fairy princess Niamh fell in love with Oisin's poetry and begged him to join her in the immortal islands. For a hundred years he lived as one of the Sidhe, hunting, dancing, and feasting. At the end of this time he found a spear washed up on the shore and grew sad, remembering his times with the Fenians. Niamh took him away to another island, where the ancient and abandoned castle of the sea-god Manannan stood. Here they found another woman held captive by a demon, whom Oisin battled again and again for a hundred years, until it was finally defeated. They then went to an island where ancient giants who had grown tired of the world long ago were sleeping until its end, and Niamh and Oisin slept and dreamt with them for a hundred years. Oisin then desired to return to Ireland to see his comrades. Niamh lent him her horse warning him that he must not touch the ground, or he would never return. Back in Ireland, Oisin, still a young man, found his warrior companions dead, and the pagan faith of Ireland displaced by Patrick's Christianity. He then saw two men struggling to carry a large boulder (or a large sack of sand, depending on the version). He bent down to lift it with one hand and hurl it away for them, but his saddle girth broke and he fell to the ground, becoming three hundred years old on the instant.
The poem is told in three parts, with the verse becoming more complex with each: the lines run four, five, and six metrical feet respectively:
You who are bent, and bald, and blind
With a heavy heart and a wandering mind
Now, man of the croziers, shadows called our names,
And then away, away, like whirling flames
''Fled foam underneath us and round us, a wandering and milky smoke
As high as the saddle-girth, covering away from our glances the tide.
The Wanderings of Oisin at the World eBook Library
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