Yeats’s Notes to Contemporary Editions

“The Valley of the Black Pig” ...
Source: A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats (Macmillan 1984).

“The Valley of the Black Pig
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, [59] periods of trouble bring prophecies of its near coming. A few years before my time, an old man who lived at Lisadell, 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. The battle is a mythological battle, and the black pig is one with the bristleless boar, that killed Dearmod, in November, upon the western end of Ben Bulben; Misroide MacDatha’s son whose [recte 'sow’ - errata slip 1st imp. Wind Among the Reeds] carving brought on so great a battle, 'the croppy black sow,’ and 'the cutty black sow’ of Welsh November rhymes (Celtic Heathendom, pp.509-16); the boar that killed Adonis; the bear that killed Attis; and the pig embodiment of Typhon (Golden Bough, II, pp.11. 26-31). The pig seems to have been a originally a genius of the corn, and seemingly because the too great power of their divinity makes divine things dangerous to mortals, its flesh was forbidden to many eastern nations; but as the meaning of the prohibition was forgotten, abhorrence took the place of reverence, pigs and boars grew into types of evil, and were described as the enemies of the very gods they once typified (Golden Bough, II, 26-31, 56-7). The Pig would, therefore, become the Black Pig, a type of cold and of winter that awake in November, the old beginning of winter, to do battle with the summer, and with the fruit and leaves, and finally, as I suggest; and as I believe, for the purposes of poetry; of the darkness that will at last destroy the gods and the world. The country people say there is no shape for a spirit to take so dangerous as the shape of a pig; and a Galway blacksmith - and blacksmiths are thought to be especially protected - says he would be afraid to meet a pig on the road at night; and another Galway man tells this story: 'There was a man coming the road from Gort to Gorryland one night, and he had a drop taken; and before him, on the road, he saw a pig walking; and having a drop in, he gave a shout, and made a kick at it and bid it get out of that. And by the time he got home, his arm was swelled from the shoulder to be as big as a bag, and he couldn’t use his hand with the pain of it. And his wife brought him, after a few days, to a woman that used to do cures at Rahasane. And on the road all she could do would hardly keep him from lying down to sleep on the grass. And when they got to the woman she knew all that happened., and, says she, it’s well for you that your wife didn’t let you fall asleep on the grass, for if you had done that but even for one instant, you’d be a lost man.’

It is possible that bristles were associated with fertility, as the tail certainly was, for a pig’s tail is stuck into the ground in Courland, that the corn may grow abundantly, and the tails of pigs, and other animal embodiments of the corn genius, are dragged over the ground to make it fertile in different countries. Professor Rhys, who considers the bristleless boar a symbol of darkness and cold, rather than of winter and cold, thinks it was without bristles because the darkness is shorn away by the sun. It may have had different meanings, just as the scourging of the man god has had different though not contradictory meanings in different epochs of the world. [Cf. shorter note to same in Collected Works.] [60] The Battle should, I believe, be compared with three other battles; a battle the Sidhe are said to fight when a person is being taken away by them; a battle they are said to fight in November for the harvest; the great battle the Tribes of the goddess Danu fought, according to the Gaelic chroniclers, with the Fomor at Moy Tura, or the Towery Plain [overlooking Lough Arrow, Co. Sligo].

I have heard of the battle over the dying both in County Galway and in the Isles of Aran, an old Arann fisherman having told me that it was fought over two of his children, and that he found blood in a box he had for keeping fish when it was over; and I have written about it, and given examples elsewhere. A faery doctor, on the borders of Galway and Clare, explained it as a battle between the friends and enemies of the dying, the one party trying to take them, the other trying to save them from being taken. It may once, when the land of the Sidhe was the only other world, and when every man who died was carried thither, have always accompanied death. I suggest that the battle between the Tribes of the goddess Danu, the powers of light, and warmth, and fruitfulness, and goodness, and the Fomor, the powers of darkness, and cold, and barrenness, and badness upon the Towery Plain, was the establishment of the habitable world, the rout of the ancestral darkness; that the battle among the Sidhe for the harvest is the annual battle of summer and winter; that the battle among the Sidhe at a man’s death is the battle between the manifest world and the ancestral darkness at the end of all things; and that all these battles are one, the battle of all things with shadowy decay. Once a symbolism has possessed the imagination of large numbers of men, it becomes, as I believe, an embodiment of disembodied powers, and repeats itself in dreams and visions, age after age. (Wind Among the Reeds [1899, pp.95-102]; given in A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats (Macmillan 1984, pp.59-61) [Pag. of WR supplied in Peter Ure, Yeats, Oliver & Boyd 1963, p.p.39 [n.25].)

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