If I were young as once I was,
and dreams and death more distant then,
I wouldn't split my soul in two,
and keep half in the world of men,
So half of me would stay at home,
and strive for Faërie in vain,
While all the while my soul would stroll
up narrow path, down crooked lane,
And there would meet a fairy lass
and smile and bow with kisses three,
She'd pluck wild eagles from the air
and nail me to a lightning tree
And if my heart would run from her
or flee from her, be gone from her,
She’d wrap it in a nest of stars
and then she'd take it on with her
Until one day she'd tire of it,
all bored with it and done with it.
She'd leave it by a burning brook,
and off brown boys would run with it.
They'd take it and have fun with it
and stretch it long and cruel and thin,
They'd slice it into four and then
they'd string with it a violin.
And every day and every night
they'd play upon my heart a song
So plaintive and so wild and strange
that all who heard it danced along
And sang and whirled and sank and trod
and skipped and slipped and reeled and rolled
Until, with eyes as bright as coals,
they'd crumble into wheels of gold . . . .
But I am young no longer now,
for sixty years my heart's been gone
To play its dreadful music there,
beyond the valley of the sun.
I watch with envious eyes and mind,
the single–souled, who dare not feel
The wind that blows beyond the moon,
who do not hear the Fairy Reel.
If you don't hear the Fairy Reel,
they will not pause to steal your breath.
When I was young I was a fool.
So wrap me up in dreams and death.
About the Author: Neil Gaiman is the award-winning author of American Gods, Stardust, Neverwhere, Coraline and other books, as well as short stories, comics, and screenplays for movies including MirrorMask (with Dave McKean) and Stardust (forthcoming).
About the Poem: "Most of the poems I've written," says Neil, "are happy to sit on the page and be looked at. This one was written with the idea of a fairy reel in mind, the beats of a dance that would make your feet twitch and set its measure in the back of your head, and so it was written to be read out loud. You could make up a tune for it, if you like. Proper fairy tunes can fill your mind and your feet with their tune and their rhythm so there's no room left to think of anything else and you dance and move to the beat of the song until you collapse, exhausted, and never move again. Don't set it to one of those tunes."
"The Fairy Reel" is copyright © 2004 by Neil Gaiman, and first appeared in The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Viking Press). It may not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.