Monday, June 2, 2014

A walk through the Celtic Twilight with W. B. Yeats.

     The Celtic Twilight is a collection of essays that read like short tales; some are interviews with folk of the Irish countryside, they who live side by side with the sidhe and the fey, and who have all sorts of tales to tell about ghosts, faerie haunts and happenings, and poets and heroes of times past. Yeats introduces us to ideas that seem child-like to the mind of today, but hover on the edge of plausibility. Are the fair folk real? Could they be? Living in America, I haven't had the exposure to the forces of the otherworld that seem so prevalent in Ireland and Scotland, though I have the blood of both heritages running through my veins. (Wales and England too, actually.) And I love faerie tales. So yes, I believe, for there are some things that need to be believed in to be seen: "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."

     Yeats asks us: "What is literature but the expression of moods by the vehicle of symbol and incident? And are there not moods which need heaven, hell, purgatory, and fairyland for their expression, no less than this dilapidated earth?"

     "Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet." (I think this is one of the most beautiful, moving lines I have ever read.)

     In Dust Hath Closed Helen's Eye, Yeats tells us of the beautiful Mary Hynes of Ballylee, and the wandering  poet Raftery, both immortalized in Liam Clancy's exquisite song Mary Hynes (shared back in April). At the time that Yeats had written this essay, there were still living some few who had known, or at least seen Mary Hynes personally, and all attested that she was indeed the most beautiful woman ever to walk upon Ireland's soil.

     In The Eaters of Precious Stones, Yeats tells us of his 'waking dreams': "Sometimes when I have been shut off from common interests, and have for a little while forgotten to be restless, I get waking dreams, now faint and shadow-like, now vivid and solid-looking, like the material world under my feet. Whether they be faint or vivid, they are ever beyond the power of my will to alter in any way. They have their own will, and sweep hither and thither, and change according to its commands....I seemed to hear a voice of lamentation out of the Golden Age. It told me that we are imperfect, incomplete, and no more like a beautiful woven web, but like a bundle of cords knotted together and flung into a corner. It said that the world was once all perfect and kindly, and that still the kindly and perfect world existed, but buried like a mass of roses under many spadefuls of earth." And so there is yet hope for humanity.


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