Sunday, March 11, 2012

Irish Fairy Tales–W.B. Yeats

“People think  I am merely trying to bring back a little of the old dead beautiful world of romance into this century of great engines and spinning Jinnies. Surely the hum of wheels and clatter of presses, to let alone the lecturers with their black coats and tumblers of water, have driven away the goblin kingdom and made silent the feet of the little dancers.”

W. B. Yeats, then goes on to state that Old Biddy Hart, in her thatched cottage has little use for such opinions, will hold no truck with the “learned sorts” and their new fangled knowledge. She knows that to offend the old ways will lead to ones come-uppance and any one not rightly respectful of the  ancient folk, cannot be alright in their head, regardless of the bo51HY1F75P1L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-35,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_oks & words they claim to know. This is part quote, part paraphrase from the introduction to a lovely book of Irish Fairy Tales compiled in 1892 by William Butler Yeats.
The book is divided under four main headings – Land and Water Fairies, Evil Spirits, Cats, and  Kings and Warriors, it also has a fascinating appendix, which explains the classification of Irish Fairies divided into The Sociable Fairies,The Sheoques,Merrows and Solitary Fairies such as The Lepricaun, The Pooka & The Dullahan etc. This is followed by a section listing the authorities on Irish Folklore & a biography of Yeats himself.
What makes this a great read is the universality of the tales. I wrote a post last year about a similar book,  Italian Folktales (Fiabe Italiane, pub’ 1956) compiled & edited by Italo Calvino and although this isn’t of that scale, what he wrote in his introduction holds true here.

“These folk stories are the catalogue of the potential destinies of the men and women,especially for that stage in life when destiny is formed, i,e, youth, beginning with birth, which itself often foreshadows the future, then the departure from home, and finally through the trials of growing up, the attainment of maturity and proof of one’s humanity. This sketch although summary, encompasses everything: the arbitrary divisions of humans, albeit in essence equal, into Kings and poor people, the persecution of the innocent and their subsequent vindication, which are the terms inherent in every life, love unrecognised when first encountered and then no sooner experienced than lost; the common fate of subjection to spells, or having one’s existence predetermined by complex and unknown forces. This complexity pervades one’s entire existence and forces one to struggle to free oneself, to determine one’s own fate; at the same time we can liberate ourselves only if we liberate other people, for this is a sine qua non* of one’s own liberation. There must be fidelity to a goal and purity of heart, values fundamental to salvation and triumph. There must also be beauty, a sign of grace that can be masked by the humble, ugly guise of a frog; and above all, there must present the infinite possibilities of mutation, the unifying element in everything: Men, Beasts, Plants, Things.”

One of my favourite of the tales here is The man who never knew fear (Translated from the Gaelic by Douglas Hyde), this is a tale of a man who, through his lack of fear, goes through a series of task and ends up rich and with the pretty girl. This is a tale I already knew under a different title(Dauntless Little John) in the Italian folktales, perfectly demonstrating that these tales under numerous guises are universal. Another of my favourites has echoes of Don Quixote, The little Weaver of Duleek Gate by Samuel Lover, the hero of this book fed up with work, offends everyone, builds himself armour from pots & pans before offering his services to the King of Dublin. Calvino’s intention with his later work was to emulate The Brothers Grimm and, as I said before, this doesn’t  have the breadth of that one, yet it still is a collection of tales that would be popular amongst the general reading public and as stated of that other collection, within these pages we follow a nations collective psyche and yield to the joyous imagination and complexity of the human experience.

PS. In reply to the quote starting this post, What’s wrong with bringing  back a little of the old dead beautiful world of romance into this century of great engines.

“William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet and playwright, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. Yeats was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and, along with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and others, founded the Abbey Theatre, where he served as its chief during its early years. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as the first Irishman so honoured for what the Nobel Committee described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation." Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929).” (Wiki)

This is a collection of tales
Irish Fairy Tales (Project Gutenberg)


*Latin for "without which, not;" hence, an alternative way of expressing the presence of a necessary condition.An essential or indispensable element or condition; a test used to establish causation in fact


stujallen said...

I once read a book of irish myths my grandparents had not sure if any were by yeats ,got a collected book of his works ,also recent waterboys album that was his poems set to music ,all the best stu

gina @letterandline said...

Up my alley. Thanks for putting it on my radar, Gary.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Stu, saw the Waterboys Album, if you fancy checking out those tales of your Grandparents, visit the links.

Hi Gina, As said to Stu just check the links & find yourself some wonderful tales.

Shelleyrae said...

I've always been fascinated by Celtic mythology. Thanks for sharing this title.

Have a great reading week!
Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

Nancy said...

Oh, you beat me to it! I was planning to feature Irish Fairy Tales for the Irish Short Story Week. I still will. Thanks for the great info. I like it when you said that there is that universality of the tales, making it a great read. I will link up your post when mine about it is up. Thanks!

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Shelleyrae, thanks for the comment & if you're interested, check ou the links.

Hi Nancy Thanks & let me know when it's up & running & I'll rec reciprocate. said...

I hadn't heard of this book or the author. I wonder why he tried to emulate The Brothers Grimm, particularly why he chose it? Interesting. As always, I learned something new. :-)

@parridhlantern said...

Thanks Lena W.B Yeats was one of Ireland's & Britain's Greatest poets, but it was Italo Calvino's intention to emulate the brothers Grimm not W. B .Yeats

Tom Cunliffe said...

Hi Parrish - Yeats is a favourite poet but I didn't know about this book. The man who never knew fear - an interesting concept, but perhaps like those who know no pain, a rather dangerous state to be in!

I'm taking an extended break from book reviews but will call in from time to time to see how you're getting on.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi tom,"The man who never knew fear" is quite a universal tale. I saw you post on your break & also your tweet about literature, so I'll keep an eye open with interest to what you decide to do next.