Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies



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18 Which, however, a few years later, at the beginning of the 20th century, Yeats bitterly claims not to have achieved: “Ireland's great moment had passed, and she had filled no roomy vessels with strong sweet wine, where we have filled our porcelain jars against the coming winter.” (Yeats, Poetry and Ireland 18)


19 A visit of such a house by Finn and his companions is depicted in the chapter “Hospitality of Cuanna’s House” (Lady Gregory 181-183).

20 Interestingly enough, Celts did not find any inconsistency in joining the land of the dead in the Elysian sense of an Underworld and the Land of the Living “as two aspects of the same Otherworld” (MacCana 129).

21 “Danaan shore” means the Otherworld here; as the home of the mentioned Thuata Dé Danann, the godlike nation who allegedly lived in Ireland before the Celts. They will be dealt with in more detail in the next chapter of the present thesis.

22 In folklore, this motif is represented by a fairy mistress who steals away the most handsome man and most brilliant poet; or, less often, a maiden is carried away to the Fairy world by a fairy king (Monagham 175-5) or by “the handsomest young man” (“Host of Air” 26) from the fairy folk, as happens in the poem “Host of Air”, based on a folk ballad Yeats heard from an old woman in Sligo (Jeffares, Commentary 55). In mythology, the most famous couples finding love in the Otherworld are Oisín and Niamh, who get married in the Otherworld and live there happily for three hundred years; and the beautiful fairy Fand and Cúchulainn, who follows her into the Otherworld, leaving his mortal wife at home. About the story of the latter couple Yeats claimed to be “one of the most beautiful of our old tales”, which shows how deeply influenced he was by these mythological love stories, mingling them with his personal life in his poems.

23 Sometimes she is seen as a beautiful fairy queen ruling over Hy Brasil, sometimes as the daughter of the sea god Mannamán mac Lir (Monaghan 252, 358); but in Yeats’s version she is the daughter of the love god Angus, which sheds even more light on the importance of the role of love in Yeats’s poetry concerning the Otherworld.

24 However, in connection with the national interpretation, Aedh can be seen as Áed Eangach, who was to be, according to a prophecy, a long expected king and deliverer of Ireland (CE 4).

25 In the notes to the original edition of The Wind Among the Reeds, Yeats explains that Aedh, being “the Irish for fire, is fire burning by itself . . . and he is the myrrh and frankincense that the imagination offers continually before all that it loves” (The Wind Among the Reeds 73-74).

26 While in folk tales, the sleeping heroes are often giants, in mythology they are interpreted as sleeping members of the Fianna, who one day will “rise up as strong and as well as they ever were” (Lady Gregory 292).The fusion of the Fenians and the giants in this meme is caused by the tendency of pagan heroes from mythological cycles to grow “bigger and bigger, until they turned into the giants” in folklore (Peasants 257).

27 They are lulled to sleep by the swaying of a branch with bells, which is an otherworldly motif from a different story in Irish mythology – King Comrac was given such a bell-branch by the god Mannanan and used it to lull people to sleep or soothe their sorrow - “no one on earth would keep in mind any want, or trouble, or tiredness, when that branch was shaken for him” (Gregory 87). Yeats obviously found this motif very appealing, as he used a similar one in his other Otherworld story The Shadowy Waters – the hero Forgael possesses a magical harp which enables him to manipulate his companions, making them feel as he wants them to. Motifs like this emphasise the power and the importance of the bard.

28 Interestingly, the sleeping lovers went “dumb as a stone [italics added].” Later, the stone became one of Yeats’s favourite recurring symbols, which he used to express the futility of abstraction and abstract hatred, which took possession of Irish nationalism in the 20th century. In 1909 in his essay on J. M. Synge he compared the new middle-class nationalists to a woman whose mind has turned to stone (The Cutting of an Agate 150), but even more famously, in 1916 he claimed in connection to the Easter Rising: “Too long a sacrifice / Can make a stone of the heart” (53-4).

29 In The Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, there are stories mentioning an underwater land, such as “The Soul Cages” or “The Legend of O’Donoghue”; in Lady Gregory’s Gods and Fighting men, for example, Diarmuit, the handsomest man of the Fianna, pursues “the daughter of King Under-Wave” into an underwater land (218-223).

30 This statement actually referred to an actual person – Yeats’s friend, J.M. Synge; the whole quote goes as follows: “He was a drifting silent man full of hidden passion, and loved wild islands, because there, set out in the light of day, he saw what lay hidden in himself” (Yeats, The Cutting of an Agate 176). However, the thought of an island being a place of inner transcendence can be applied more generally, especially when taking into consideration how islands are portrayed in Yeats’s poetry and in mythology as such.

31 The particular story Yeats had in mind when writing this statement was “some new Prometheus Unbound”, writing of which was his ambition at that time. He meant to tie it to the Irish countryside and mythology, from which “all the nations had their first unity”; it would have “Patrick or Columbkil, Oisín or Fion, in Promethous’ place; and, instead of Caucasus, Cro-Patric or Ben Bulben (Autobiographies 240).

32 Some of these will be dealt with later in the chapter.

33 The Voyage of Bran actually served as an inspiration for Yeats’s The Shadowy Waters (Bramsback 33).

34 Goats were considered fairylike animals; an example in the folklore is the Irish fairy “pooka”, having it’s origin in the gaelic poc for “goat” (Monagham 218). The goat-creature in The Shadowy waters could have been a messenger from the Otherworld, sent to Forgael by the Everliving.

35 The motif of sailing across the water to achieve some “transcendental goal” recurred in Yeats’s poetry even much later in his life. Whereas young Yeats was crossing seas to reach the Otherworld in his poems, older Yeats was “Sailing to Byzantium” [italics added] to get rid of the “tatter in its mortal dress” and be gathered “into the artifice of eternity.”

36 The version mostly analysed in the present thesis is the 1905 published version of the play, for being the original one, pertaining to the era which is dealt with here. However, Yeats later revised the play and, occasionally, the revised version from 1912 is quoted.

37 Beltaine, held on the first day of May, is one of the greatest Celtic festivals, which, traditionally, marked the beginning of summer, and used to be connected to fertility festivities (Monaghan 40-42). However, Christianity attributed to Beltaine a somewhat sinister character among the country people, as can be seen from the words of Bridget Bruin, the mother of the family, talking to the priest: “For there is not another night in the year / So wicked as to-night” (Land of Heart’s Desire 1912). The concerns of country people were based on superstitions that “the veil between the realms of the living and the dead is thought to be at its thinnest” and it was actually possible to pass to the Otherworld (Matson, Roberts 9).

38 Seeing the inhabitants of the Otherworld as incarnations of boundless passions can be supported by Yeats’s explanation of the fairies’ immortality in his essay “The Untiring Ones” from The Celtic Twilight where he draws the contrast between human and fairy emotions. He actually ascribed their immortality to the possibility of having boundless emotions: we, mortal people, “cannot have any unmixed emotions” and “it is this entanglement of moods which makes us old, and puckers our brows and deepens the furrows about our eyes. If we could love and hate with as good heart as the faeries do, we might grow to be long-lived like them.” Their lives consist of “untiring joys and sorrows” and “love with them never grows weary, nor can the circles of the stars tire out their dancing feet” (Celtic Twilight 130).

39 The primroses were supposed to bring good luck to the household, if a “golden path” was made in front of the door (9). However, “the wind cried and carried them away; / and a child came running in the wind and caught them in her hands and fondled them” (10). Later the faery child spreads primroses at Mary’s feet when laying charms on her. Yeats probably “picked up this idea when collecting folklore in the West of Ireland” (Bramsback 63), but later he discarded the primrose symbol, and exchanged it for the much more common “quicken bough”, a tree closely associated with fairy lore and the Otherworld – either used for detecting witches, or for making magic rods to cast spells with (Monaghan 400).

40 In Ireland, fairies were never called by their real name, as it was considered dangerous, and naming them brought ill luck; they were usually referred to as “good people”, but often rather not mentioned at all, as the country people believed that “the fairies are very secretive and much resent being talked of” (Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales 4). In The Land of Heart’s Desire, Bridget Bruin blames Mary for not obeying the tradition: “You know well / How calling the good people by that name / Or talking of them over much at all / May bring all kinds of evil on the house” (14).

41 In the 1912 version of The Land of Heart’s Desire, the initial stage directions for Mary read: “MARY BRUIN stands by the door reading a book. If she looks up she can see through the door into the woods.” Her position by the open door foreshadows the plot – she is obviously depicted as on the periphery of the worlds; she, as the only one of the family, has a view on the mysterious woods, and therefore the only one who can perceive the Otherworld.

42 Rosses, mentioned in “The Stolen Child”, is “a sandy plain, covered with short grass”, being a “mournful, haunted place.” When a person fell asleep there, their soul would be carried away and they would wake up “silly”, according to the folk beliefs observed by Yeats (Yeats qtd. in Jeffares, Commentary 13). Another famous otherworldly site in Yeats’s poetry was Knocknarea, the grave of Queen Meave of the Sidhe (Yeats, “Notes” to The Wind Among the Reeds 69) where, according to his Autobiographies, strange lights were appearing – Yeats himself as a boy saw a “small light” climbing up the hill, which “in five minutes it reached the summit, and I [Yeats], who had often climbed the mountain, knew that no human footstep was so speedy” (Autobiographies 96) Places fabled with legends like this completed the picture of the Otherworld and made it more real.

43 Moreover, all three mentioned animals have symbolic meanings tying them to the Otherworld in some way: heron being a bird which exists in “several elements”, became the bird to symbolize the Otherworld (Monaghan 245); water-rat itself has no special symbolic meaning – but it is close to an otter, which was an animal to whom “powers of the Otherworld” were ascribed, and who, like men, lived in their own kingdoms and were “virtually invulnerable” (Monaghan 371); the trout had a special rank among the fish of Ireland – Yeats includes among his Fairy and Folk Tales of Irish Peasantry Samuel Lover’s story “A White Trout; a Legend of Cong” (43-45), in which a caught trout changes into a beautiful lady; in his notes to the story he claims that “these trout stories are common all over Ireland. Many holy wells are haunted by such blessed trout” (45). Moreover, this motif reappears in his own poetry in “The Song of Wandering Aengus” – the Master of Love Angus “caught a little silver trout”, who consequently changed into “a glimmering girl” and left him hopelessly enchanted.

44 Yeats in his Autobiographies comments on his conscious effort to acquire a “cold” style: “I deliberately reshaped my style, deliberately sought out an impression as of cold light and tumbling clouds” (91); this is, it might be argued, the style in which the fairy world is described.

45 Sometimes the mysterious chill of the Otherworld is connected to paleness as well as to water – in The Land of Heart’s Desire, the fairy child is described in a beautifully chilling simile: “Her face was pale as water before dawn” (10).

46 Abstraction was a theme much discussed by Yeats in his poems as well as essays. At the time when the “The Stolen Child” was written, Yeats still held a positive attitude towards abstraction; he was exalting the “Celtic passion for ‘abstract right’” and the capability of having “abstract emotions”, as linked to the concept of “Irish virtue” (Dwan, “Abstract Hatred” 24), which made the Irish special and distinguished them from the other “more successful, and practical races” (Yeats qtd. in Dwan “Abstract Hatred” 24). Later, however, Yeats became famous for his negative attitude towards abstraction in nationalism and the capability of Celtic nations of abstract hatred; by 1909 he claimed that “Ireland” was “ruined by abstraction” (qtd. Dawn “Abstract Hatred” 19). In his essay on J.M. Synge, he writes that in Ireland “abstract thoughts are raised up between men's minds and Nature” until minds in a land that has given itself to agitation over-much, abstract thoughts are raised up between men's minds and Nature, who never does the same thing twice, or makes one man like another, till minds “cry down natural impulse with the morbid persistence of minds unsettled by some fixed idea” and the defence of “that what is so unreal” is making the patriots “bitter and restless“ (The Cutting of an Agate 150).

47 Moreover, comparing the moon to a flower enables Yeats to introduce his favourite symbol of the “Rose”; which might give the moonlight a more mystical hue, taking into consideration the connotations Yeats’s “Rose” carries (even though the Rose did not become “an increasingly complex symbol” sooner than in 1891 (Jeffares Commentary 22), two years after publishing of The Wanderings of Oisin), the reader might ascribe this mystical meaning to the “blossoming moon”, though originally unintentional.

48 Interestingly, in a passage in The Wanderings of Oisín, the love god Aengus compares in his song men’s hearts to fiery dew, which stresses the transcendental value of dew, as something coming directly form gods: “Men’s hearts of old were drops of flame / that from the saffron morning came” (Book I, 276-7).

49 The phrase “birds of Aengus” appears in many Yeats’s poems and works – among other, in The Shadowy Waters (41), or in the epic poem “Baile and Aillinn”, where they can be seen as patrons of love. According to the mythology, the birds “that used to be with Angus were four of his kisses that turned into birds and that used to be coming about young men of Ireland, and crying after them (Lady Gregory 66).

50 The motif of a soul’s transformation into a white bird is also used in a poem written to Maud Gonne, “White Birds” – a love poem, in which he wishes to change into a bird together with his beloved, in order to escape the “weariness” (5) and the “fret of the flames” (11) of this world: “For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!” (8).

51 The word “psychopomp” is not used in its narrow sense, understood from Greek mythology, as guides of souls into the Underworld after death, but also on a more general level – as guides to the Otherworld, or just to some other level of being, perhaps seeing it in a slightly Jungian way, who used the term to describe something within the self of a person – like an anima pointing “the way to the highest meaning” (Jung 29), or the archetype of and old man, who is “the enlightener, the master and teacher, a psychopomp whose personification…” (Jung 37).


52 Here is a nice example of the overlapping of history and mythology. These mounds were usually ancient man-made cairns, or passage tombs, from the pre-Celtic era (Matson, Roberts 102); it makes sense that the Tuatha Dé Danann, in mythology a pre-Celtic (pre-Milesian) people, would find their home in the burial tombs built by the pre-Celtic men in history.

53 Yeats asserts that he believes “the host of air” and “the host of the Sidhe” to be the same, but “some writers distinguish between the Sluagh Gaoith, the host of the air, and Sluagh Sidhe, the host of the Sidhe, and describe the host of the air as of a peculiar malignancy (“Notes” to Wind among the Reeds 78).

54 A “battle among the Sidhe at a man's death” is said to be fought and that “is the battle of life and death” (Yeats, “Notes” to Wind among the Reeds 101).

55 Size of Irish fairies disputable – they are sometimes little, but often they are thought to be of human size, this feature being one of the main difference from the English fairies (Bramsbäck 28); Yeats explains this discrepancy about the fairies’ size by the fact that “everything is capricious about them, even their size” (Fairy and Folk Tales 12) and they often seem little “when first seen, though seeming of common human height when you are once glamoured” (Writings on Folklore 20-21).

56 This classification was first published in 1889 in an article of his, “Irish Fairies, Ghosts and Witches”; later it constituted an appendix to his compilation Irish Fairy Tales from 1892.

57 Where the term Sidhe is used in the thesis, it is usually meant to denote the inhabitants of the Otherworld in general; it implies the Tuatha Dé Danann as well as the fairies.

58 The desire connected to the Sidhe seems to be similar to that which Yeats described as characteristic of Rossetti’s paintings, where “the ecstasy of the lover and of the saint are alike, and desire become wisdom without ceasing to be desire” (Yeats, Ideas of Good and Evil 70).

59 Moreover, wind is an extremely powerful natural force – associating it with Ireland gave the nation a sense of power. In “The Unappeasable Host”, wind is the chief symbol, not only representing the Sidhe, but also demonstrating the power of the mystical world:

Desolate winds that cry over the wandering sea

Desolate winds that hover in the flaming West;

Desolate winds that beat the doors of Heaven and beat

The doors of Hell and blow there many a whimpering ghost. (7-10)

The triple anaphora shows that wind is everywhere, being unbound and mighty. By not ending verse 9 with the object (“doors of Heaven”), but with the predicate of “desolate winds” (“beat”), the enjambment makes the Heaven and Hell seem relatively unimportant in comparison to the almighty strength of the wind. The wind even brings “many a whimpering ghost” to the doors of Heaven and Hell, which makes it a kind of psychopomp.



60According to Yeats’s notes, “Sidhe is also Gaelic for wind” (65), but this is not verified otherwise.

61 Giving an important voice to the nature of Ireland meant actually giving power to Ireland itself; as the Irish were considered to be closely connected to nature, as was said in the previous chapters. This connection is stressed in the juxtaposition of the “reeds” and “man” in the following verses:

The wind is blowing on the waving reeds

The wind is blowing on the heart of man. (The Land of Heart’s Desire 24)

Both “the waving reeds” and “the heart of man”, being objects of the sentence with the same construction, give the reader not only an impression of connection, but a vague sense of identification of the hearts of men and swaying reeds.



62 In Bate’s essay, the expression “association between dance and eternity” was used to describe a poem by Arthur Symons, but it might as well describe Yeats’s conception of the dance metaphor.

63 The character of Caoilte is somewhat problematic in mythology: according to some sources, he and Oisín were the only members of the Fianna to survive into the days of Christianity and talked to St. Patrick (MacCana 106) (this is told in the 12th century story Colloquy of Old Men; however, in Yeats’s account of this story, the dialogue occurs only between Patrick and Oisín); the Celtic Encyclopaedia even hints that the two Fenian heroes got later merged into one, as Caoilte was displaced by Oisín in most of the later ballads (MacKillop); this, however, is at odds with Lady Gregory’s Mythology, which was one of Yeats’s most likely sources – for Caoilte is introduced as a unique member of the Fianna and his adventures are described at length, side by side with the adventures of Oisín. When he was old “he went into a hill of the Sidhe to be healed of his old wounds. And whether he came back from there or not is not known; and there are some who say he used to be talking with Patrick of the Bells the same time Oisín was with him. But that is not likely, or Oisín would not have made complaints about his loneliness the way he did” (Lady Gregory Gods and Fighting Men 291).

64 The image of “Caoilte tossing his burning hair” also comes from Lady Gregory, as in her book, the mentioned account of Caoilte’s appearance to the king is present and he is described as the “very tall man, that was shining like a burning flame” (291).

65 In an essay “The Golden Age” in The Celtic Twilight there is a prose passage which corresponds to these verses: “The faeries and the more innocent of the spirits dwelt within it, and lamented over our fallen world in the lamentation of the wind-tossed reeds, in the song of the birds, in the moan of the waves, and in the sweet cry of the fiddle” (174).

66 Overlapping and inconsistency is a typical phenomena in Celtic mythology – the Celts had no “clear differentiation of divine functions” (MacCana 23) and their deities roles overlapped.

67 He also provides the reader with an examples from living folklore: “I have heard of the battle over the dying both in County Galway and in the Isles of Arann, 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.”

68 The last pair of images is not exactly contrasting, but the first image expresses joy, while the second evokes the feeling of anxiety; therefore arousing contrasting feelings.

69 As one of Yeats’s favourite rhymes, it connects the child to its natural surroundings (Kiberd 102).

70 This can be compared to the desire of “The Man who Dreamt of Faeryland”, who also wanted to find love and beauty in the Otherworld – and he never escaped the desire; “he found no comfort on the grave” (48).

71 In the poem “Fergus and the Druid”, the Ulster king Fergus pursues this “higher, invisible level of being”. He gives up his crown , seeks wisdom and experiences his own personal transcendence by unloosing “the cord”, opening a “little bag of dreams” which “wrap” him “round” and give him insight he did not have before.

72 Yeats’s description of Maud manifests his view of her as the very ideal of the Otherworldly beauty: “I had never thought to see in a living woman so great beauty. It belonged to famous pictures, to poetry, to some legendary past. A complexion like the bloom of apples … and stature so great that she seemed of a divine race. Her movements were works of grace … she seems like a goddess.” (Yeats Reader)


73 This is not just the transformation of the mundane world into the Otherworld in literature – in one poem, Yeats describes an apocalyptic vision of a world where “the day sinks, drowned in dew / Being weary of the world’s empires, bow down to you, / Master of still stars and of the flaming door” (“The Valley of the Black Pig” 5-8). Yeats comments on the poem, asserting that Irish peasants, those “who still labour by the cromlech on the shore” (4), “have for generations comforted themselves, in their misfortunes, with visions of a great battle, to be fought in a mysterious valley called ‘The Valley of the Black Pig,’ and to break the last power of their enemies. (Yeats qtd. in Jeffares Commentary 69). This, too, is a transformation of the whole society into something grander, even if mysterious and sinister.


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