One writer most influenced the dreamscape of my youth—the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. I read his poems in assigned texts in my high school English class. I memorized two of them thanks to songs by folk singers Judy Collins—the poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”—and Donovan—“The Song of the Wandering Aengus.”
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
This poem always conjured up thoughts of a place in a clearing in the woods, a place of solitude and contemplation. Who can resist the lure of a small cabin and living ‘alone in a bee-loud glade’?
While Innisfree took me to a quiet cottage in the Irish countryside, “The Song of the Wandering Aengus” presented a mysterious story full of unusual and mystical images. According to Wikipedia, the Aengus (Old Irish: Oíngus, Óengus) is a character from Irish mythology who is a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann—a supernatural race. He is “probably a god of love, youth and poetic inspiration.”
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
The trout becomes a ‘glimmering girl,’ who calls him by name and runs, fading through “the brightening air.”
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
Two recent books brought Yeats back to mind for me. In the recent young adult novel, The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert, is the story of seventeen-year-old Alice Prosperpine, who finds out about her grandmother’s death while on the road with her mother. Her grandmother, a children’s book writer, lived on an estate called The Hazel Wood. When Alice’s mother is kidnapped and taken to a supernatural place where her grandmother’s dark fairy tales are set, Alice is left no choice but to search for her mother with the help of one of her grandmother’s avid readers.
The actor David Duchovny wrote his most recent novel, Miss Subways, based on an obscure play by Yeats that has its roots in the Ulster Cycle of Irish Mythology. In the play, “The Only Jealousy of Emer,” Emer falls in love with the warrior hero Cu Chulainn. When Cu Chulainn inadvertently kills his own son, Emer is presented with a cruel bargain by a faerie Sidhe. If Emer gives up Cu Chulainn and her hope of growing old with him, the Sidhe will let him live. Duchovny’s book, Emer is a 41-year-old school teacher and her writer boyfriend is Cuchilain, otherwise known as Con. The modern Emir is presented with a similar bargain as her ancient counterpart. The Sidhe in this retelling is a doorman, and the bargain is that if Emer gives up her dreams of a life with Con, who is at that moment flirting with another woman outside a restaurant, he will be spared the fate of being hit by a car. Decisions, decisions.
I have no doubt that Yeats helped to inspire my book, The Mists of Na Crainn, and the mystical place I’m often fantasizing about.