p. 354 p. 355
The Hosting of the Sidhe (p. 3).--The gods of ancient Ireland, the Tuatha De Danaan, or the Tribes of the goddess Danu, or the Sidhe, from Aes Sidhe, or Sluagh Sidhe, the people of the Faery Hills, as these words are usually explained, still ride the country as of old. Sidhe is also Gaelic for wind, and certainly the Sidhe have much to do with the wind. They journey in whirling wind, the winds that were called the dance of the daughters of Herodias in the Middle Ages, Herodias doubtless taking the place of some old goddess. When the country people see the leaves whirling on the road they bless themselves, because they believe the Sidhe to be passing by. Knocknarea is in Sligo, and the country people say that Maeve, still a great queen of the western Sidhe, is buried in the cairn of stones upon it. I have written of Clooth-na-Bare in The Celtic Twilight. She "went all over the world, seeking a lake deep enough to drown her faery life, of which she had grown weary, leaping from hill to hill, and setting up a cairn of stones wherever her feet lighted, until, at last, she found the deepest water in the world in little Lough Ia, on the top of the bird mountain, in Sligo." I forget, now, where I heard this story, but it may have been from a priest at Collooney. Clooth-na-Bare would mean the old woman of Bare, but is evidently a corruption of Cailleac Bare, the old woman of Bare, who, under the names Bare, and Berah, and Beri, and Verah, and Dera, and Dhira, appears in the legends of many places.--1899-1906.
The Host of the Air (p. 7).--This poem is founded on an old Gaelic ballad that was sung and translated for me by a woman at Ballisodare in County Sligo; but in the ballad the husband found the keeners keening his wife when he got to his house.--1899.
He mourns for the Change that has come upon Him and His Beloved, and longs for the End of the World (p. 17).--My deer and hound are properly related to the deer and hound that flicker in and out of the various tellings of the Arthurian legends, leading different knights upon adventures, and to the hounds and to the hornless deer at the beginning of, I think, all tellings of Usheen's journey to the country of the young. The hound is certainly related to the Hounds of Annwoyn or of Hades, who are white, and have red ears, and were heard, and are, perhaps, still heard by Welsh peasants, following some flying thing in the night winds; and is probably related to the hounds that Irish country people believe will awake and seize the souls of the dead if you lament them too loudly or too soon. An old woman told a friend and myself that she saw what she thought were white birds, flying over an enchanted place, but found, when she got near, that they had dogs' heads; and I do not doubt that my hound and these dog-headed birds are of the same family. I got my hound and deer out of a last century Gaelic poem about Oisin's journey to the country of the young. After the hunting of the hornless deer, that leads him to the seashore, and while he is riding over the sea with Niamh, he sees amid the waters--I have not the Gaelic poem by me, and describe it from memory--a young man following a girl who has a golden apple, and afterwards a hound with one red ear following a deer with no horns. This hound and this deer seem plain images of the desire of man "which is for the woman," and "the desire of the woman which is for the desire of the man," and of all desires that are as these. I have read them in this way in The Wanderings of
[paragraph continues] Usheen or Oisin, and have made my lover sigh because he has seen in their faces "the immortal desire of immortals."
The man in my poem who has a hazel wand may have been Aengus, Master of Love; and I have made the boar without bristles come out of the West, because the place of sunset was in Ireland, as in other countries, a place of symbolic darkness and death.--1899.
The Cap and Bells (p. 25).--I dreamed this story exactly as I have written it, and dreamed another long dream after it, trying to make out its meaning, and whether I was to write it in prose or verse. The first dream was more a vision than a dream, for it was beautiful and coherent, and gave me the sense of illumination and exaltation that one gets from visions, while the second dream was confused and meaningless. The poem has always meant a great deal to me, though, as is the way with symbolic poems, it has not always meant quite the same thing. Blake would have said, "the authors are in eternity," and I am quite sure they can only be questioned in dreams.--1899.
The Valley of the Black Pig (p. 27).--All over Ireland there are prophecies of the coming rout of the enemies of Ireland, in a certain Valley of the Black Pig, and these prophecies are, no doubt, now, as they were in the Fenian days, a political force. I have heard of one man who would not give any money to the Land League, because the Battle could not be until the close of the century; but, as a rule, periods of trouble bring prophecies of its near coming. A few years before my time, an old man who lived at Lisadill, in Sligo, used to fall down in a fit and rave out descriptions of the Battle; and a man in Sligo has told me that it will be so great a battle that the horses shall go up to their fetlocks in blood, and that their girths, when it is over, will rot from their bellies for lack of a hand to unbuckle them. If
one reads Rhys' Celtic Heathendom by the light of Frazer's Golden Bough, and puts together what one finds there about the boar that killed Diarmuid, and other old Celtic boars and sows, one sees that the battle is mythological, and that the Pig it is named from must be a type of cold and winter doing battle with the summer, or of death battling with life.--1899-1906.
The Secret Rose (p. 36).--I find that I have unintentionally changed the old story of Conchubar's death. He did not see the Crucifixion in a vision but was told of it. He had been struck by a ball made out of the dried brains of an enemy and hurled out of a sling; and this ball had been left in his head and his head had been mended, the Book of Leinster says, with thread of gold because his hair was like gold. Keeling, a writer of the time of Elizabeth, says, "In that state did he remain seven years, until the Friday on which Christ was crucified, according to some historians; and when he saw the unusual changes of the creation and the eclipse of the sun and the moon at its full, he asked of Bucrach, a Leinster Druid, who was along with him, what was it that brought that unusual change upon the planets of Heaven and Earth. 'Jesus Christ, the Son of God,' said the Druid, 'who is now being crucified by the Jews.' 'That is a pity,' said Conchubar; 'were I in his presence I would kill those who were putting him to death.' And with that he brought out his sword, and rushed at a woody grove which was convenient to him, and began to cut and fell it; and what he said was, that if he were among the Jews, that was the usage he would give them, and from the excessiveness of his fury which seized upon him, the ball started out of his head, and some of the brain came after it, and in that way he died. The wood of Lanshraigh, in Feara Rois, is the name by which that shrubby wood is called."
I have imagined Cuchulain meeting Fand "walking among flaming dew," because, I think, of something in Mr. Standish O'Grady's books.
I have founded the man "who drove the gods out of their liss," or fort, upon something I have read about Caolte after the battle of Gabra, when almost all his companions were killed, driving the gods out of their liss, either at Osraighe, now Ossory, or at Eas Ruaidh, now Asseroe, a waterfall at Ballyshannon, where Ilbreac, one of the children of the goddess Danu, had a liss. But maybe I only read it in Mr. Standish O'Grady, who has a fine imagination, for I find no such story in Lady Gregory's book.
I have founded "the proud dreaming king" upon Fergus, the son of Roigh, but when I wrote my poem here, and in the song in my early book, "Who will drive with Fergus now," I only knew him in Mr. Standish O'Grady, and my imagination dealt more freely with what I did know than I would approve of to-day.
I have founded him "who sold tillage, and house, and goods," upon something in "The Red Pony," a folk tale in Mr. Larminie's West Irish Folk Tales. A young man "saw a light before him on the high road. When he came as far, there was an open box on the road, and a light coming up out of it. He took up the box. There was a lock of hair in it. Presently he had to go to become the servant of a king for his living. There were eleven boys. When they were going out into the stable at ten o'clock, each of them took a light but he. He took no candle at all with him. Each of them went into his own stable. When he went into his stable he opened the box. He left it in a hole in the wall. The light was great. It was twice as much as in the other stables." The king hears of it, and makes him show him the box. The king says, "You must go and bring me the woman to whom the hair belongs." In the end, the young man, and not the king, marries the woman.--1899-1906.
The Shadowy Waters (p. 99).--I published in 1902 a version of "The Shadowy Waters," which, as I had no stage experience whatever, was unsuitable for stage
representation, though it had some little success when played during my absence in America in 1904, with very unrealistic scenery before a very small audience of cultivated people. On my return I rewrote the play in its present form, but found it still too profuse in speech for stage representation. In 1906 I made a stage version, which was played in Dublin in that year and is now in my volume of plays. The present version must be considered as a poem only.--1922.
Prefatory Poem (p. 175).--"Free of the ten and four" is an error I cannot now correct, without more rewriting than I have a mind for. Some merchant in Villon, I forget the reference, was "free of the ten and four." Irish merchants exempted from certain duties by the Irish Parliament were, unless memory deceives me again for I am writing away from books, "free of the eight and six."--1914.
Poems beginning with that "To a Wealthy Man" and ending with that "To a Shade" (pp. 193-199).--In the thirty years or so during which I have been reading Irish newspapers, three public controversies have stirred my imagination. The first was the Parnell controversy. There were reasons to justify a man's joining either party, but there were none to justify, on one side or on the other, lying accusations forgetful of past service, a frenzy of detraction. And another was the dispute over "The Playboy." There may have been reasons for opposing as for supporting that violent, laughing thing, though I can see the one side only, but there cannot have been any for the lies, for the unscrupulous rhetoric spread against it in Ireland, and from Ireland to America. The third prepared for the Corporation's refusal of a building for Sir Hugh Lane's famous collection of pictures. . . .
[NOTE.--I leave out two long paragraphs which have been published in earlier editions of these poems. There
is no need now to defend Sir Hugh Lane's pictures against Dublin newspapers. The trustees of the London National Gallery, through his leaving a codicil to his will unwitnessed, have claimed the pictures for London, and propose to build a wing to the Tate Gallery to contain them. Some that were hostile are now contrite, and doing what they can, or letting others do unhindered what they can, to persuade Parliament to such action as may restore the collection to Ireland.--Jan. 1917.]
These controversies, political, literary, and artistic, have showed that neither religion nor politics can of itself create minds with enough receptivity to become wise, or just and generous enough to make a nation. Other cities have been as stupid--Samuel Butler laughs at shocked Montreal for hiding the Discobolus in a cellar--but Dublin is the capital of a nation, and an ancient race has nowhere else to look for an education. Goethe in Wilhelm Meister describes a saintly and naturally gracious woman, who getting into a quarrel over some trumpery detail of religious observance, grows--she and all her little religious community--angry and vindictive. In Ireland I am constantly reminded of that fable of the futility of all discipline that is not of the whole being. Religious Ireland--and the pious Protestants of my childhood were signal examples--thinks of divine things as a round of duties separated from life and not as an element that may be discovered in all circumstance and emotion, while political Ireland sees the good citizen but as a man who holds to certain opinions and not as a man of good will. Against all this we have but a few educated men and the remnants of an old traditional culture among the poor. Both were stronger forty years ago, before the rise of our new middle class which showed as its first public event, during the nine years of the Parnellite split, how base at moments of excitement are minds without culture.--1914.
Lady Gregory in her Life of Sir Hugh Lane assumes that the poem which begins "Now all the truth is out" (p. 197), was addressed to him. It was not; it was addressed to herself.--1912.
The Dolls (p. 232).--The fable for this poem came into my head while I was giving some lectures in Dublin. I had noticed once again how all thought among us is frozen into "something other than human life." After I had made the poem, I looked up one day into the blue of the sky, and suddenly imagined, as if lost in the blue of the sky, stiff figures in procession. I remembered that they were the habitual image suggested by blue sky, and looking for a second fable called them "The Magi" (p. 231), complementary forms of those enraged dolls.--1914.
"Unpack the Loaded Pern" (p. 263).--When I was a child at Sligo I could see above my grandfather's trees a little column of smoke from "the pern mill," and was told that "pern" was another name for the spool, as I was accustomed to call it, on which thread was wound. One could not see the chimney for the trees, and the smoke looked as if it came from the mountain, and one day a foreign sea-captain asked me if that was a burning mountain.--1919.
The Phases of the Moon (p. 301), The Double Vision of Michael Robartes (p. 316), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (p. 323).--Years ago I wrote three stories in which occurs the names of Michael Robartes and Owen Aherne. I now consider that I used the actual names of two friends, and that one of these friends, Michael Robartes, has but lately returned from Mesopotamia where he has partly found and partly thought out much philosophy. I consider that John Aherne is either the original of Owen Aherne or some near relation of the man that was, and that both he and Robartes, to whose
namesake I had attributed a turbulent life and death, have quarrelled with me. They take their place in a phantasmagoria in which I endeavour to explain my philosophy of life and death, and till that philosophy has found some detailed exposition in prose certain passages in the poems named above may seem obscure. To some extent I wrote them as a text for exposition.--1922.
A Note on the Setting of these Poems to Music.--A musician who would give me pleasure should not repeat a line, or put more than one note to one syllable. I am a poet not a musician, and dislike to have my words distorted or their animation destroyed, even though the musician claims to have expressed their meaning in a different medium.--1922.
W. B. Y.
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