THE CELTIC TWILIGHT
by
W. B. Yeats


[2nd Edition]

(London: A. H. Bullen 1902)

Contents [pp.ix-x]
Introductory poems [‘Time drops in decay ...” [vi]; ‘The host is riding from Knocknarea ...’ (“The Hosting of the Sidhe”) [vii]; This Book [1]; A Teller of Tales [4]; Belief and Unbelief [8]; Mortal Help [12]; A Visionary [15]; Village Ghosts [23]; “Dust Hath Closed Helen’s Eye” [35]; A Knight of the Sheep [50]; An Enduring Heart [56]; The Sorcerers [61]; The Devil [69]; Happy and Unhappy Theologians [71]; The Last Gleeman [79]; Regina, Regina Pigmeorum, Veni [79]; “And Fair, Fierce Women” [97]; Enchanted Woods [101]; Miraculous Creatures [109]; Aristotle of the Books [112]; The Swine of the Gods [113]; A Voice [115]; Kidnappers [117]; The Untiring Ones [130]; Earth, Fire and Water [135]; The Old Town [137]; The Man and His Boots [141]; A Coward [143]; The Three O’Byrnes and the Evil Faeries [145]; Drumcliff and Rosses [148]; The Thick Skull of the Fortunate [160]; The Religion of the Sailor [163]; Concerning the Nearness Together of Heaven, Earth, and Purgatory [165]; The Eaters of Precious Stones [167]; Our Lady of the Hills [169]; The Golden Age [173]; A Remonstrance with Scotsmen for Having Soured the Disposition of Their Ghosts and Faeries [176]; War [183]; The Queen and The Fool [186]; The Friends of the People of Faery [195]; Dreams That Have No Moral [208]; By The Roadside [231]; “Into the Twilight” [poem, 235; end].

Bibliographical note: The Celtic Twili ght / Men and Women, Dhouls and Faeries. / by / W. B. Yeats / with a frontispiece by J. B. Yeats [1st edn.] (London: Lawrence and Bullen 1893), 212pp. [see details]; and Do. [revised & enlarged 2nd edn.] (London: Bullen 1902); rep. in Mythologies (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1959), giving the date of the first edition while actually supplying also the text of the 1902 Edition, complete with footnotes; but omitting the Preface of either edition (i.e., 1893 or 1902). There is another edition within the Early Poems and Stories (1925), which faithfully reproduces the 1902 edition and adds some footnotes of its own - i.e., introducing Thoor Ballylee. The same is printed in The Secret Rose (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1959), being an ‘selection’ of Mythologies (1959) published within the same year as the last-named. See also the more recent edition introduced by Kathleen Raine (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1981), ill. by Jean Townsend. There are several other popular editions of the collection. See also Editorial Remarks - attached.


Time drops in decay
Like a candle burnt out.
And the mountains and woods
Have their day, have their day;
But, kindly old rout
Of the fire-born moods,
You pass not away
. [vi]

The Hosting of the Sidhe
The host is riding from Knocknarea,
And over the grave of Clooth-na-bare;
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, ‘Away, come away;
‘Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are a-gleam,
‘Our arms are waving, our lips are apart,
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.’
The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day;
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, ‘Away, come away.’
 

[vii; see note]


This Book

I

I HAVE desired, like every artist, to create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant, and significant things of this marred and clumsy world, and to show in a vision something of the face of Ireland to any of my own people who would look where I bid them. I have therefore written down accurately and candidly much that I have heard and seen, and, except by way of commentary, nothing that I have merely imagined. I have, however, been at no pains to separate my own beliefs from those of the peasantry, but have rather let my men and women, dhouls and faeries, go their way unoffended or defended by any argument of mine. The things a man has heard and seen are threads of life, and if he pull them carefully from the confused distaff of memory, any who will can weave them into whatever garments of belief please them best. I too have woven my garment like another, [1] but I shall try to keep warm in it, and shall be well content if it do not unbecome me.
 Hope and Memory have one daughter and her name is Art, and she has built her dwelling far from the desperate field where men hang out their garments upon forked boughs to be banners of battle. O beloved daughter of Hope and Memory, be with me for a little.

[See variants in the opening sentence of the 1893 Edition in Editorial Notes, attached.]

II

I HAVE added a few more chapters in the manner of the old ones, and would have added others, but one loses, as one grows older, something of the lightness of one’s dreams; one begins to take life up in both hands, and to care more for the fruit than the flower, and that is no great loss perhaps. In these new chapters, as in the old ones, I have invented nothing but my comments and one or two deceitful sentences that may keep some poor story-teller’s commerce with the devil and his angels, or the like, [2] from being known among his neighbours. I shall publish in a little while a big book about the commonwealth of faery, and shall try to make it systematical and learned enough to buy pardon for this handful of dreams.

1902
W. B. YEATS

§

A Teller of Tales

MANY of the tales in this book were told me by one Paddy Flynn, a little bright-eyed old man, who lived in a leaky and one-roomed cabin in the village of Ballisodare, which is, he was wont to say, ‘the most gentle’ - whereby he meant faery - ‘place in the whole of County Sligo.’ Others hold it, however, but second to Drumcliff and Drumahair. The first time I saw him he was cooking mushrooms for himself; the next time he was asleep under a hedge, smiling in his sleep. He was indeed always cheerful, though I thought I could see in his eyes (swift as the eyes of a rabbit, when they peered out of their wrinkled holes) a melancholy which was well-nigh a portion of their joy; the visionary melancholy of purely instinctive natures and of all animals.
 And yet there was much in his life to depress him, for in the triple solitude of age, eccentricity, and deafness, he went [4] about much pestered by children. It was for this very reason perhaps that he ever recommended mirth and hopefulness. He was fond, for instance, of telling how Collumcille cheered up his mother. ‘How are you to-day, mother?’ said the saint. ‘Worse,’ replied the mother. ‘May you be worse to-morrow,’ said the saint. The next day Collumcille came again, and exactly the same conversation took place, but the third day the mother said, ‘Better, thank God.’ And the saint replied, ‘May you be better to-morrow.’ He was fond too of telling how the Judge smiles at the last day alike when he rewards the good and condemns the lost to unceasing flames. He had many strange sights to keep him cheerful or to make him sad. I asked him had he ever seen the faeries, and got the reply, ‘Am I not annoyed with them?’ I asked too if he had ever seen the banshee. ‘I have seen it,’ he said, ‘down there by the water, batting the river with its hands.’
 I have copied this account of Paddy [5] Flynn, with a few verbal alterations, from a note-book which I almost filled with his tales and sayings, shortly after seeing him. I look now at the note-book regretfully, for the blank pages at the end will never be filled up. Paddy Flynn is dead; a friend of mine gave him a large bottle of whiskey, and though a sober man at most times, the sight of so much liquor filled him with a great enthusiasm, and he lived upon it for some days and then died. His body, worn out with old age and hard times, could not bear the drink as in his young days. He was a great teller of tales, and unlike our common romancers, knew how to empty heaven, hell, and purgatory, faeryland and earth, to people his stories. He did not live in a shrunken world, but knew of no less ample circumstance than did Homer himself. Perhaps the Gaelic people shall by his like bring back again the ancient simplicity and amplitude of imagination. What is literature but the expression of moods by the vehicle [6] of symbol and incident? And are there not moods which need heaven, hell, purgatory, and faeryland for their expression, no less than this dilapidated earth? Nay, are there not moods which shall find no expression unless there be men who dare to mix heaven, hell, purgatory, and faeryland together, or even to set the heads of beasts to the bodies of men, or to thrust the souls of men into the heart of rocks? Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet. [7; note.]

§

Belief and Unbelief

THERE are some doubters even in the western villages. One woman told me last Christmas that she did not believe either in hell or in ghosts. Hell she thought was merely an invention got up by the priest to keep people good; and ghosts would not be permitted, she held, to go ‘trapsin about the earth’ at their own free will; ‘but there are faeries,’ she added, ‘and little leprechauns, and water-horses, and fallen angels.’ I have met also a man with a mohawk Indian tattooed upon his arm, who held exactly similar beliefs and unbeliefs. No matter what one doubts one never doubts the faeries, for, as the man with the mohawk Indian on his arm said to me, ‘they stand to reason.’ Even the official mind does not escape this faith.
 A little girl who was at service in the village of Grange, close under the seaward slopes of Ben Bulben, suddenly disappeared [8] one night about three years ago. There was at once great excitement in the neighbourhood, because it was rumoured that the faeries had taken her. A villager was said to have long struggled to hold her from them, but at last they prevailed, and he found nothing in his hands but a broomstick. The local constable was applied to, and he at once instituted a house-to-house search, and at the same time advised the people to burn all the bucalauns (ragweed) on the field she vanished from, because bucalauns are sacred to the faeries. They spent the whole night burning them, the constable repeating spells the while. In the morning the little girl was found, the story goes, wandering in the field. She said the faeries had taken her away a great distance, riding on a faery horse. At last she saw a big river, and the man who had tried to keep her from being carried off was drifting down it - such are the topsy-turvydoms of faery glamour - in a cockleshell. [9]  On the way her companions had mentioned the names of several people who were about to die shortly in the village.
 Perhaps the constable was right. It is better doubtless to believe much unreason and a little truth than to deny for denial’ s sake truth and unreason alike, for when we do this we have not even a rush candle to guide our steps, not even a poor sowlth to dance before us on the marsh, and must needs fumble our way into the great emptiness where dwell the mis-shapen dhouls. And after all, can we come to so great evil if we keep a little fire on our hearths and in our souls, and welcome with open hand whatever of excellent come to warm itself, whether it be man or phantom, and do not say too fiercely, even to the dhouls themselves, ‘Be ye gone’? When all is said and done, how do we not know but that our own unreason may be better than another’ s truth? for it has been warmed [10] on our hearths and in our souls, and is ready for the wild bees of truth to hive in it, and make their sweet honey. Come into the world again, wild bees, wild bees! [11]

§

Mortal Help

 ONE hears in the old poems of men taken away to help the gods in a battle, and Cuchullan won the goddess Fand for a while, by helping her married sister and her sister’s husband to overthrow another nation of the Land of Promise. I have been told, too, that the people of faery cannot even play at hurley unless they have on either side some mortal, whose body, or whatever has been put in its place, as the story-teller would say, is asleep at home. Without mortal help they are shadowy and cannot even strike the balls. One day I was walking over some marshy land in Galway with a friend when we found an old, hard-featured man digging a ditch. My friend had heard that this man had seen a wonderful sight of some kind, and at last we got the story out of him. When he was a boy he was working one day with about thirty men and [12] women and boys. They were beyond Tuam and not far from Knock-na-gur. Presently they saw, all thirty of them, and at a distance of about half-a-mile, some hundred and fifty of the people of faery. There were two of them, he said, in dark clothes like people of our own time, who stood about a hundred yards from one another, but the others wore clothes of all colours, ‘bracket’ or chequered, and some with red waistcoats.
 He could not see what they were doing, but all might have been playing hurley, for ‘they looked as if it was that.’ Sometimes they would vanish, and then he would almost swear they came back out of the bodies of the two men in dark clothes. These two men were of the size of living men, but the others were small. He saw them for about half-an-hour, and then the old man he and those about him were working for took up a whip and said, ‘Get on, get on, or we will have no work done!’ [13]
 I asked if he saw the faeries too, ‘Oh, yes, but he did not want work he was paying wages for to be neglected.’ He made every body work so hard that nobody saw what happened to the faeries.

1902

§

A Visionary

A YOUNG man came to see me at my lodgings the other night, and began to talk of the making of the earth and the heavens and much else. I questioned him about his life and his doings. He had written many poems and painted many mystical designs since we met last, but latterly had neither written nor painted, for his whole heart was set upon making his mind strong, vigorous, and calm, and the emotional life of the artist was bad for him, he feared. He recited his poems readily, however. He had them all in his memory. Some indeed had never been written down. They, with their wild music as of winds blowing in the reeds,  [ 1] seemed to me the [15] very inmost voice of Celtic sadness, and of Celtic longing for infinite things the world has never seen. Suddenly it seemed to me that he was peering about him a little eagerly. ‘Do you see anything, X—?’ I said. ‘A shining, winged woman, covered by her long hair, is standing near the doorway,’ he answered, or some such words. ‘Is it the influence of some living person who thinks of us, and whose thoughts appear to us in that symbolic form?’ I said; for I am well instructed in the ways of the visionaries and in the fashion of their speech. ‘No,’ he replied; ‘for if it were the thoughts of a person who is alive I should feel the living influence in my living body, and my heart would beat and my breath would fail. It is a spirit. It is some one who is dead or who has never lived.’
 I asked what he was doing, and found he was clerk in a large shop. His pleasure, however, was to wander about upon the hills, talking to half-mad and visionary [16] peasants, or to persuade queer and conscience-stricken persons to deliver up the keeping of their troubles into his care. Another night, when I was with him in his own lodging, more than one turned up to talk over their beliefs and disbeliefs, and sun them as it were in the subtle light of his mind. Sometimes visions come to him as he talks with them, and he is rumoured to have told divers people true matters of their past days and distant friends, and left them hushed with dread of their strange teacher, who seems scarce more than a boy, and is so much more subtle than the oldest among them.
 The poetry he recited me was full of his nature and his visions. Sometimes it told of other lives he believes himself to have lived in other centuries, sometimes of people he had talked to, revealing them to their own minds. I told him I would write an article upon him and it, and was told in turn that I might do so if I did not mention his name, for he wished to be [17] always ‘unknown, obscure, impersonal.’ Next day a bundle of his poems arrived, and with them a note in these words: ‘Here are copies of verses you said you liked. I do not think I could ever write or paint any more. I prepare myself for a cycle of other activities in some other life. I will make rigid my roots and branches. It is not now my turn to burst into leaves and flowers.’
 The poems were all endeavours to capture some high, impalpable mood in a net of obscure images. [See var. in 1893 edn., as infra] There were fine passages in all, but these were often embedded in thoughts which have evidently a special value to his mind, but are to other men the counters of an unknown coinage. To them they seem merely so much brass or copper or tarnished silver at the best. At other times the beauty of the thought was obscured by careless writing as though he had suddenly doubted if writing was not a foolish labour. He had frequently illustrated his verses with drawings, [18] in which an unperfect anatomy did not altogether hide extreme beauty of feeling. The faeries in whom he believes have given him many subjects, notably Thomas of Ercildoune [ n2] sitting motionless in the twilight while a young and beautiful creature leans softly out of the shadow and whispers in his ear. He had delighted above all in strong effects of colour: spirits who have upon their heads instead of hair the feathers of peacocks; a phantom reaching from a swirl of flame towards a star; a spirit passing with a globe of iridescent crystal - symbol of the soul - half shut within his hand. But always under this largess of colour lay some tender homily addressed to man’ s fragile hopes. This spiritual eagerness draws to him all those who, like himself, seek for illumination or else mourn for a joy that has gone. One of these especially comes to mind. A winter or two ago he spent much of the night walking up and down upon the [19] mountain talking to an old peasant who, dumb to most men, poured out his cares for him. Both were unhappy: X— because he had then first decided that art and poetry were not for him, and the old peasant because his life was ebbing out with no achievement remaining and no hope left him. Both how Celtic! how full of striving after a something never to be completely expressed in word or deed. The peasant was wandering in his mind with prolonged sorrow. Once he burst out with ‘God possesses the heavens - God possesses the heavens - but He covets the world’; and once he lamented that his old neighbours were gone, and that all had forgotten him: they used to draw a chair to the fire for him in every cabin, and now they said, ‘Who is that old fellow there?’ ‘The fret’ [Irish for doom] ‘is over me,’ he repeated, and then went on to talk once more of God and heaven. More than once also he said, waving his arm towards the [20] mountain, ‘Only myself knows what happened under the thorn-tree forty years ago’; and as he said it the tears upon his face glistened in the moonlight.
 This old man always rises before me when I think of X—. Both seek - one in wandering sentences, the other in symbolic pictures and subtle allegoric poetry - to express a something that lies beyond the range of expression; and both, if X— will forgive me, have within them the vast and vague extravagance that lies at the bottom of the Celtic heart. The peasant visionaries that are, the landlord duelists that were, and the whole hurly-burly of legends - Cuchulain fighting the sea for two days until the waves pass over him and he dies, Caolte storming the palace of the gods, Oisin seeking in vain for three hundred years to appease his insatiable heart with all the pleasures of faeryland, these two mystics walking up and down upon the mountains uttering the central dreams of their souls in no less dream-laden sentences, [21] and this mind that finds them so interesting - all are a portion of that great Celtic phantasmagoria whose meaning no man has discovered, nor any angel revealed.

Note that Yeats altered the above story in 1902 chiefly by the inclusion of additional sentences introducing verses from one of the visionary’s poems, something can be known of their charm from three verses [20] which I rescue gladly from the caprice of the gods who rule over a mystic’s manuscript. They are addresed to a girl, whom he knew, I understand, in another life, and tell how he died out of a dream of love centuries before his present body was born [indent]: As from our dreams we died away / Far off I felt the outer things, / Your wind-blown tresses round me play, / Your bosom’s gentle murmuring things. // And far away out faces met / As on the verge of the vast spheres; / And in the night our cheeks were wet, / I could not say with dew or tears. // As one within the Mother’s heart, / In that hushed dream upon the hight [sic] / We lived, and then rose up to part, / Beccause her ways are infinite. [end indent] One or two other poems have a like perfection of feeling, but deal with more impalpable matters. There are fine passages in all, but these will often be embedded [... &c.]’ (1893 Edn., pp.20-21.)

[1902]

§

Village Ghosts

IN the great cities we see so little of the world, we drift into our minority. In the little towns and villages there are no minorities; people are not numerous enough. You must see the world there, perforce. Every man is himself a class; every hour carries its new challenge. When you pass the inn at the end of the village you leave your favourite whimsy behind you; for you will meet no one who can share it. We listen to eloquent speaking, read books and write them, settle all the affairs of the universe. The dumb village multitudes pass on unchanging; the feel of the spade in the hand is no different for all our talk: good seasons and bad follow each other as of old. The dumb multitudes are no more concerned with us than is the old horse peering through the rusty gate of the village pound. The ancient map-makers wrote across unexplored regions, ‘Here are lions.’ Across the villages of fishermen [23] and turners of the earth, so different are these from us, we can write but one line that is certain, ‘Here are ghosts.’
 My ghosts inhabit the village of H—, in Leinster. History has in no manner been burdened by this ancient village, with its crooked lanes, its old abbey churchyard full of long grass, its green background of small fir-trees, and its quay, where lie a few tarry fishing-luggers. In the annals of entomology it is well known. For a small bay lies westward a little, where he who watches night after night may see a certain rare moth fluttering along the edge of the tide, just at the end of evening or the beginning of dawn. A hundred years ago it was carried here from Italy by smugglers in a cargo of silks and laces. If the moth-hunter would throw down his net, and go hunting for ghost tales or tales of the faeries and such-like children of Lillith, he would have need for far less patience. [24]
 To approach the village at night a timid man requires great strategy. A man was once heard complaining, ‘By the cross of Jesus! how shall I go? If I pass by the hill of Dunboy old Captain Burney may look out on me. If I go round by the water, and up by the steps, there is the headless one and another on the quays, and a new one under the old churchyard wall. If I go right round the other way, Mrs. Stewart is appearing at Hillside Gate, and the devil himself is in the Hospital Lane.’
 I never heard which spirit he braved, but feel sure it was not the one in the Hospital Lane. In cholera times a shed had been there set up to receive patients. When the need had gone by, it was pulled down, but ever since the ground where it stood has broken out in ghosts and demons and faeries. There is a farmer at H—, Paddy B— by name - a man of great strength, [25] and a teetotaller. His wife and sister-in-law, musing on his great strength, often wonder what he would do if he drank. One night when passing through the Hospital Lane, he saw what he supposed at first to be a tame rabbit; after a little he found that it was a white cat. When he came near, the creature slowly began to swell larger and larger, and as it grew he felt his own strength ebbing away, as though it were sucked out of him. He turned and ran.
 By the Hospital Lane goes the ‘Faeries Path.’ Every evening they travel from the hill to the sea, from the sea to the hill. At the sea end of their path stands a cottage. One night Mrs. Arbunathy, who lived there, left her door open, as she was expecting her son. Her husband was asleep by the fire; a tall man came in and sat beside him. After he had been sitting there for a while, the woman said, ‘In the name of God, who are you?’ He got up and went out, saying, ‘Never leave the door open at this hour, or evil may come to you.’ She woke her husband [26] and told him. ‘One of the good people has been with us,’ said he.
 Probably the man braved Mrs. Stewart at Hillside Gate. When she lived she was the wife of the Protestant clergyman. ‘Her ghost was never known to harm any one,’ say the village people; ‘it is only doing a penance upon the earth.’ Not far from Hillside Gate, where she haunted, appeared for a short time a much more remarkable spirit. Its haunt was the bogeen, a green lane leading from the western end of the village. I quote its history at length: a typical village tragedy. In a cottage at the village end of the bogeen lived a house-painter, Jim Montgomery, and his wife. They had several children. He was a little dandy, and came of a higher class than his neighbours. His wife was a very big woman. Her husband, who had been expelled from the village choir for drink, gave her a beating one day. Her sister heard of it, and came and took down one of the window shutters [27] - Montgomery was neat about everything, and had shutters on the outside of every window - and beat him with it, being big and strong like her sister. He threatened to prosecute her; she answered that she would break every bone in his body if he did. She never spoke to her sister again, because she had allowed herself to be beaten by so small a man. Jim Montgomery grew worse and worse: his wife soon began to have not enough to eat. She told no one, for she was very proud. Often, too, she would have no fire on a cold night. If any neighbours came in she would say she had let the fire out because she was just going to bed. The people about often heard her husband beating her, but she never told any one. She got very thin. At last one Saturday there was no food in the house for herself and the children. She could bear it no longer, and went to the priest and asked him for some money. He gave her thirty shillings. Her husband met her, [28] and took the money, and beat her. On the following Monday she got very ill, and sent for a Mrs. Kelly. Mrs. Kelly, as soon as she saw her, said, ‘My woman, you are dying,’ and sent for the priest and the doctor. She died in an hour. After her death, as Montgomery neglected the children, the landlord had them taken to the workhouse. A few nights after they had gone, Mrs. Kelly was going home through the bogeen when the ghost of Mrs. Montgomery appeared and followed her. It did not leave her until she reached her own house. She told the priest, Father S—, a noted antiquarian, and could not get him to believe her. A few nights afterwards Mrs. Kelly again met the spirit in the same place. She was in too great terror to go the whole way, but stopped at a neighbour’s cottage midway, and asked them to let her in. They answered they were going to bed. She cried out, ‘In the name of God let me in, or I will break open the door.’ They [29] opened, and so she escaped from the ghost. Next day she told the priest again. This time he believed, and said it would follow her until she spoke to it.
 She met the spirit a third time in the bogeen. She asked what kept it from its rest. The spirit said that its children must be taken from the workhouse, for none of its relations were ever there before, and that three masses were to be said for the repose of its soul. ‘If my husband does not believe you,’ she said, ‘show him that,’ and touched Mrs. Kelly’ s wrist with three fingers. The places where they touched swelled up and blackened. She then vanished. For a time Montgomery would not believe that his wife had appeared: ‘she would not show herself to Mrs. Kelly,’ he said - ‘she with respectable people to appear to.’ He was convinced by the three marks, and the children were taken from the workhouse. The priest said the masses, and the shade must have been at rest, for it has not since appeared. [30] Some time afterwards Jim Montgomery died in the workhouse, having come to great poverty through drink.
 I know some who believe they have seen the headless ghost upon the quay, and one who, when he passes the old cemetery wall at night, sees a woman with white borders to her cap  [ 2] creep out and follow him. The apparition only leaves him at his own door. The villagers imagine that she follows him to avenge some wrong. ‘I will haunt you when I die’ is a favourite threat. His wife was once half-scared to death by what she considers a demon in the shape of a dog.
 These are a few of the open-air spirits; the more domestic of their tribe gather within-doors, plentiful as swallows under southern eaves. [22]
 One night a Mrs. Nolan was watching by her dying child in Fluddy’s Lane. Suddenly there was a sound of knocking heard at the door. She did not open, fearing it was some unhuman thing that knocked. The knocking ceased. After a little the front-door and then the back-door were burst open, and closed again. Her husband went to see what was wrong. He found both doors bolted. The child died. The doors were again opened and closed as before. Then Mrs. Nolan remembered that she had forgotten to leave window or door open, as the custom is, for the departure of the soul. These strange openings and closings and knockings were warnings and reminders from the spirits who attend the dying.
 The house ghost is usually a harmless and well-meaning creature. It is put up with as long as possible. It brings good luck to those who live with it. I remember two children who slept with their mother and sisters and brothers in one [33] small room. In the room was also a ghost. They sold herrings in the Dublin streets, and did not mind the ghost much, because they knew they would always sell their fish easily while they slept in the ‘haunted’ room.
 I have some acquaintance among the ghost-seers of western villages. The Connaught tales are very different from those of Leinster. These H— spirits have a gloomy, matter-of-fact way with them. They come to announce a death, to fulfil some obligation, to revenge a wrong, to pay their bills even - as did a fisherman’s daughter the other day - and then hasten to their rest. All things they do decently and in order. It is demons, and not ghosts, that transform themselves into white cats or black dogs. The people who tell the tales are poor, serious-minded fishing people, who find in the doings of the ghosts the fascination of fear. In the western tales is a whimsical grace, a curious extravagance. The people who recount them live in the most wild and [33] beautiful scenery, under a sky ever loaded and fantastic with flying clouds. They are farmers and labourers, who do a little fishing now and then. They do not fear the spirits too much to feel an artistic and humorous pleasure in their doings. The ghosts themselves share in their quaint hilarity. In one western town, on whose deserted wharf the grass grows, these spirits have so much vigour that, when a misbeliever ventured to sleep in a haunted house, I have been told they flung him through the window, and his bed after him. In the surrounding villages the creatures use the most strange disguises. A dead old gentleman robs the cabbages of his own garden in the shape of a large rabbit. A wicked sea-captain stayed for years inside the plaster of a cottage wall, in the shape of a snipe, making the most horrible noises. He was only dislodged when the wall was broken down; then out of the solid plaster the snipe rushed away whistling.

§

“Dust Hath Closed Helen’s Eye”

I

I HAVE been lately to a little group of houses, not many enough to be called a village, in the barony of Kiltartan in County Galway, whose name, Ballylee, is known through all the west of Ireland. There is the old square castle, Ballylee, inhabited by a farmer and his wife, and a cottage where their daughter and their son-in-law live, and a little mill with an old miller, and old ash-trees throwing green shadows upon a little river and great stepping-stones. I went there two or three times last year to talk to the miller about Biddy Early, a wise woman that lived in Clare some years ago, and about her saying, ‘There is a cure for all evil between the two mill-wheels of Ballylee,’ and to find out from him or another whether she meant the moss between the running waters or some other herb. I have been there this summer, and I shall [35] be there again before it is autumn, because Mary Hynes, a beautiful woman whose name is still a wonder by turf fires, died there sixty years ago; for our feet would linger where beauty has lived its life of sorrow to make us understand that it is not of the world. An old man brought me a little way from the mill and the castle, and down a long, narrow boreen that was nearly lost in brambles and sloe bushes, and he said, ‘That is the little old foundation of the house, but the most of it is taken for building walls, and the goats have ate those bushes that are growing over it till they’ ve got cranky, and they won’t grow any more. They say she was the handsomest girl in Ireland, her skin was like dribbled snow’ - he meant driven snow, perhaps, - ‘and she had blushes in her cheeks. She had five handsome brothers, but all are gone now!’ I talked to him about a poem in Irish, Raftery, a famous poet, made about her, and how it said, ‘there is a strong cellar in Ballylee.’ [36] He said the strong cellar was the great hole where the river sank underground, and he brought me to a deep pool, where an otter hurried away under a grey boulder, and told me that many fish came up out of the dark water at early morning ‘to taste the fresh water coming down from the hills.’
 I first heard of the poem from an old woman who fives about two miles further up the river, and who remembers Raftery and Mary Hynes. She says, ‘I never saw anybody so handsome as she was, and I never will till I die,’ and that he was nearly blind, and had ‘no way of living but to go round and to mark some house to go to, and then all the neighbours would gather to hear. If you treated him well he’d praise you, but if you did not, he’d fault you in Irish. He was the greatest poet in Ireland, and he’d make a song about that bush if he chanced to stand under it. There was a bush he stood under from the rain, and he made verses [37] praising it, and then when the water came through he made verses dispraising it.’ She sang the poem to a friend and to myself in Irish, and every word was audible and expressive, as the words in a song were always, as I think, before music grew too proud to be the garment of words, flowing and changing with the flowing and changing of their energies. The poem is not as natural as the best Irish poetry of the last century, for the thoughts are arranged in a too obviously traditional form, so the old poor half-blind man who made it has to speak as if he were a rich farmer offering the best of everything to the woman he loves, but it has naïve and tender phrases. The friend that was with me has made some of the translation, but some of it has been made by the country people themselves. I think it has more of the simplicity of the Irish verses than one finds in most translations.

Going to Mass by the will of God,
The day came wet and the wind rose; [38]
met Mary Hynes at the cross of Kiltartan,
And I fell in love with her then and there.
 I spoke to her kind and mannerly,
As by report was her own way;
And she said, ‘Raftery, my mind is easy,
You may come to-day to Ballylee.’
 When I heard her offer I did not linger,
When her talk went to my heart my heart rose.
We had only to go across the three fields,
We had daylight with us to Ballylee.
 The table was laid with glasses and a quart measure,
She had fair hair, and she sitting beside me;
And she said, ‘Drink, Raftery, and a hundred welcomes,
There is a strong cellar in Ballylee.’
 O star of light and O sun in harvest,
O amber hair, O my share of the world,
Will you come with me upon Sunday
Till we agree together before all the people?
 I would not grudge you a song every Sunday evening,
Punch on the table, or wine if you would drink it,
But, O King of Glory, dry the roads before me,
Till I find the way to Ballylee.
 There is sweet air on the side of the hill
When you are looking down upon Ballylee; [39]
When you are walking in the valley picking nuts and blackberries,
There is music of the birds in it and music of the Sidhe.
 What is the worth of greatness till you have the light
Of the flower of the branch that is by your side?
There is no god to deny it or to try and hide it,
She is the sun in the heavens who wounded my heart.
 There was no part of Ireland I did not travel,
From the rivers to the tops of the mountains,
To the edge of Lough Greine whose mouth is hidden,
And I saw no beauty but was behind hers.
 Her hair was shining, and her brows were shining too;
Her face was like herself, her mouth pleasant and sweet.
She is the pride, and I give her the branch,
She is the shining flower of Ballylee.
 It is Mary Hynes, this calm and easy woman,
Has beauty in her mind and in her face.
If a hundred clerks were gathered together,
They could not write down a half of her ways.’

An old weaver, whose son is supposed to go away among the Sidhe (the faeries) [40] at night, says, ‘Mary Hynes was the most beautiful thing ever made. My mother used to tell me about her, for she’d be at every hurling, and wherever she was she was dressed in white. As many as eleven men asked her in marriage in one day, but she wouldn’ t have any of them. There was a lot of men up beyond Kilbecanty one night, sitting together drinking, and talking of her, and one of them got up and set out to go to Ballylee and see her; but Cloon Bog was open then, and when he came to it he fell into the water, and they found him dead there in the morning. She died of the fever that was before the famine.’ Another old man says he was only a child when he saw her, but he remembered that ‘the strongest man that was among us, one John Madden, got his death of the head of her, cold he got crossing rivers in the night-time to get to Ballylee.’ This is perhaps the man the other remembered, for tradition gives the one thing many shapes. There is an old [41] woman who remembers her, at Derrybrien among the Echtge hills, a vast desolate place, which has changed little since the old poem said, ‘the stag upon the cold summit of Echtge hears the cry of the wolves,’ but still mindful of many poems and of the dignity of ancient speech. She says, ‘The sun and the moon never shone on anybody so handsome, and her skin was so white that it looked blue, and she had two little blushes on her cheeks.’ And an old wrinkled woman who lives close by Ballylee, and has told me many tales of the Sidhe, says, ‘I often saw Mary Hynes, she was handsome indeed. She had two bunches of curls beside her cheeks, and they were the colour of silver. I saw Mary Molloy that was drowned in the river beyond, and Mary Guthrie that was in Ardrahan, but she took the sway of them both, a very comely creature. I was at her wake too - she had seen too much of the world. She was a kind creature. One day I was coming home through [42] that field beyond, and I was tired, and who should come out but the Floisin Glegeal (the shining flower), and she gave me a glass of new milk.’ This old woman meant no more than some beautiful bright colour by the colour of silver, for though I knew an old man - he is dead now - who thought she might know ‘the cure for all the evils in the world,’ that the Sidhe knew, she has seen too little gold to know its colour. But a man by the shore at Kinvara, who is too young to remember Mary Hynes, says, ‘Everybody says there is no one at all to be seen now so handsome; it is said she had beautiful hair, the colour of gold. She was poor, but her clothes every day were the same as Sunday, she had such neatness. And if she went to any kind of a meeting, they would all be killing one another for a sight of her, and there was a great many in love with her, but she died young. It is said that no one that has a song made about them will ever live long.’ [43]
 Those who are much admired are, it is held, taken by the Sidhe, who can use ungoverned feeling for their own ends, so that a father, as an old herb doctor told me once, may give his child into their hands, or a husband his wife. The admired and desired are only safe if one says ‘God bless them’ when one’ s eyes are upon them. The old woman that sang the song thinks, too, that Mary Hynes was ‘taken,’ as the phrase is, ‘for they have taken many that are not handsome, and why would they not take her? And people came from all parts to look at her, and maybe there were some that did not say “God bless her.”’ An old man who lives by the sea at Duras has as little doubt that she was taken, ‘for there are some living yet can remember her coming to the pattern  [ 3] there beyond, and she was said to be the handsomest girl in Ireland.’ She died young because the gods loved [44] her, for the Sidhe are the gods, and it may be that the old saying, which we forget to understand literally, meant her manner of death in old times. These poor countrymen and countrywomen in their beliefs, and in their emotions, are many years nearer to that old Greek world, that set beauty beside the fountain of things, than are our men of learning. She ‘had seen too much of the world’ ; but these old men and women, when they tell of her, blame another and not her, and though they can be hard, they grow gentle as the old men of Troy grew gentle when Helen passed by on the walls.
 The poet who helped her to so much fame has himself a great fame throughout the west of Ireland. Some think that Raftery was half blind, and say, ‘I saw Raftery, a dark man, but he had sight enough to see her,’ or the like, but some think he was wholly blind, as he may have been at the end of his life. Fable makes all things perfect in their kind, and her [45] blind people must never look on the world and the sun. I asked a man I met one day, when I was looking for a pool na mna Sidhe where women of faery have been seen, how Raftery could have admired Mary Hynes so much if he had been altogether blind? He said, ‘I think Raftery was altogether blind, but those that are blind have a way of seeing things, and have the power to know more, and to feel more, and to do more, and to guess more than those that have their sight, and a certain wit and a certain wisdom is given to them.’ Everybody, indeed, will tell you that he was very wise, for was he not only blind but a poet? The weaver whose words about Mary Hynes I have already given, says, ‘His poetry was the gift of the Almighty, for there are three things that are the gift of the Almighty - poetry and dancing and principles. That is why in the old times an ignorant man coming down from the hillside would be better behaved and have better learning than a [46] man with education you’d meet now, for they got it from God’ ; and a man at Coole says, ‘When he put his finger to one part of his head, everything would come to him as if it was written in a book’; and an old pensioner at Kiltartan says, ‘He was standing under a bush one time, and he talked to it, and it answered him back in Irish. Some say it was the bush that spoke, but it must have been an enchanted voice in it, and it gave him the knowledge of all the things of the world. The bush withered up afterwards, and it is to be seen on the roadside now between this and Rahasine.’ There is a poem of his about a bush, which I have never seen, and it may have come out of the cauldron of fable in this shape.
 A friend of mine met a man once who had been with him when he died, but the people say that he died alone, and one Maurteen Gillane told Dr. Hyde that all night long a light was seen streaming up to heaven from the roof of the house where [47] he lay, and ‘that was the angels who were with him’ ; and all night long there was a great light in the hovel, ‘and that was the angels who were waking him. They gave that honour to him because he was so good a poet, and sang such religious songs.’ It may be that in a few years Fable, who changes mortalities to immortalities in her cauldron, will have changed Mary Hynes and Raftery to perfect symbols of the sorrow of beauty and of the magnificence and penury of dreams.

1900 [see note.]

II

 When I was in a northern town awhile ago, I had a long talk with a man who had lived in a neighbouring country district when he was a boy. He told me that when a very beautiful girl was born in a family that had not been noted for good looks, her beauty was thought to have come from the Sidhe, and to bring misfortune with it. He went over the names [48] of several beautiful girls that he had known, and said that beauty had never brought happiness to anybody. It was a thing, he said, to be proud of and afraid of. I wish I had written out his words at the time, for they were more picturesque than my memory of them.

1902

1902 Notes
1. I wrote this sentence long ago. This sadness now seems to me a part of all peoples who preserve the moods of the ancient peoples of the world. I am not so pre-occupied with the mystery of Race as I used to be, but leave this sentence and other sentences like it unchanged. We once believed them, and have, it may be, not grown wiser. [See editorial note.]
2. I wonder why she had white borders to her cap. The old Mayo woman, who has told me so many tales, has told me that her brother-in-law saw ‘a woman with white borders to her cap going around the stacks in a field, and soon after he got a hurt, and he died in six months.’
  3. A ‘pattern,’ or ‘patron,’ is a festival in honour of a saint.


The second paragraph was added to the 1902 edition.


Notices of books “By the Same Author” prefixed to half-title page:

The Countess Kathleen: Various Legends and Lyrics . (T. Fisher Unwin.) ‘In these poems the immediate charm is their haunting music, which depends, not upon any wealth of words, but upon a subtle strain of music, in their whole quality of thoughts and images, some incommunicable beauty is felt in the simples words and verses.’ - Academy.
’The youngest and finest of the Irish poets of today.’ -Athenaeum.

The Wanderings of Iisin: Ballads, Lyrics and Dramatic Sketches (T. Fister Unwin.) ‘At once the words being to murmur and sing and swim before the breath of poetic imagination; again the common is made uncommon, the old miracle is wrought anew; you are carried into rainbow-coloured lands of fantasy; there is a blowing of magic horns, a lovely enchantress is speaking in silken phrases, the swords of of heroes are ringing in onsets, and the workaday world is for a time forgot.’ - Scots Observer.

John Sherman and Dhoya (Pseudonym Library: T. Fisher Unwin.) ‘Clever as John Sherman is, cleverness seems almost an odious qualty to ascribe to pathos so unassertive, humour so delicate, and observation so penetrative. ... Doya is not a story, and is far slighter. It is an Irish legend, or apologue, f the days when there were giants in the land, and faries and magical influences. If there are admirers of Ossian that yet remain among us, we would ask them to read Dhoya and perpend thereon.’ - Saturday Review.

Irish Fairy Stories (Children’s Library: T. Fisher Unwin.)

Irish Fairy and Folk Tales (Scott Library: Walter Scott.)


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