From the Hills of Dream by Fiona Macleod

FOAM OF THE PAST

THRENODIES AND SONGS
CHANTS AND DIRGES

 

TO W.B.YEATS

In a small book in a greater, "The Little Book of the Great Enchantment" in The Book of White Magic (or Wisdom) . . . the "Leabhran. Mhr Gheasadaireachd" to give the Gaelic name it is said: "When you have a memory out of darkness, tell to a seer, to a poet, and to a friend, that which you remember: and if the seer say, I see it-- and if the poet say, I hear it-- and if the friend say, I believe it: then know of a surety that your remembrance is a true remembrance." But if our ancestral memories, or memories of the imagination, or reveries of the imagining mind wandering in a world publicly foregone yet inwardly actual, could become authentic only by a test such as this, then I fear they would indeed be apparent as mere foam, the froth of dream. For where is he who is at once seer and poet and friend? Well, you have the great desire, which is the threshold of vision, and vision itself you have, which is the white enchantment: your words that you compel to a new and subtle music, and the unknown airs in your mind that shepherd those words into the green glens of your imagination, would reveal you as the poet, though not one of your fellows acclaimed you, or none offered you the mistletoe bough with its old symbolism of wisdom and song: and, finally, I think I may call you friend, for we go one way, the dearer that it is narrow and little trod and leads by the whispering sedge and the wilderness, and meet sometimes on that way, and know that we seek the same Graal, and shall come upon it, beyond that fathomless hollow of green water that lies in the West as our poets say, the "Pool" whose breath is Silence and over which hangs a bow of red flame whitening to its moonwhite core.

So you, perhaps, may say of some of these lines in "From the Hills of Dream" and "Foam of the Past" that they come familiarly to you in other than the sense of mere acquaintance. I think you too have known the dew which falls when Dalua whispers under the shadowy rowan-trees, and have heard the laughter of the Hidden Host, and known, . . . not the fairie folk of later legend. . . . but the perilous passage of the great Lords of Shadow who "tread the deeps of night." You, too, perhaps, have feared The White Hound and the Red Shepherd: and have known that weariness, too old and deep for words, of which the aged Gaelic woman of the Island of Tiree had dim knowledge when she sang

It is the grey rock I am,
And the grey rain on the rock:
It is the grey wave
. . .
That grey hound.

You have heard The Rune of the Winds, the blowing of the four white winds and the three dark winds: perhaps, if you have not seen, or heard, my little Moon-Child, you remember her from long ago, and her loneliness when she sang

I have no Playmate but the tide
The seaweed loves with dark brown eyes:
The night-waves have the stars for play
For me but sighs.

For all poetry is in a sense memory: all art, indeed, is a mnemonic gathering of the innumerable and lost into the found and unique. I am sure that you, too, have seen the rising of the Crimson Moon, and have walked secretly with Midir of the Dew and moon-crown'd Brigid and wave-footed Minan. For you also the long way that seems brief and the short way that seems long, who can say with Dalua (in The Immortal Hour)

And if I tread the long, continuous way
Within a narrow round, not thinking it long,
And fare a single hour thinking it many days,
I am not first or last of The Immortal Clan,
For whom the long ways of the world are brief ,
And the short ways heavy with unimagined time.

So that to you, for one, these poems, however rude in form they may sometimes be, will come with that remembrance of the imagination which is the incalculable air of the otherworld of poetry. As you know, most of them have their place in tales of mine coloured with the colour of a lost day and of a beauty that is legend: and must suffer by severance from their context, as pluckt pine-branches lose, if not their native savour, at least the light and gloom of their forest-company and the smooth hand of the wind. The sound and colour of a barbarous day may well vanish in these broken recalling strains . . . at their best dimly caught even when, for example, "The Death Dance " be read in its due place in "The Laughter of the Queen," apart from which it is perhaps like an air born a thousand years ago on a Gaelic minstrel's clarsach and played anew to-day with curious artifice on a many-noted instrument. One or two at least of these threnodies and chants will have for you the familiar cadence of thought as well as of the fall of words, for they are but adaptations of what long ago were chanted to rude harps made of applewood and yew. The songs of the Swan-Children of Lir have been sung by many poets: Deirdre's Lament on leaving Scotland, as she and Nathos (Naois) crossed the Irish Sea, has been a music in every generation of the Gael: and I do no more than remember, and repeat, with an accent of atmosphere or thought or words, which, perhaps, just reveals the difference between paraphrase and metaphrase. Like Deirdre, we, too, look often yearningly to a land from which we are exiled in time, but inhabit in dream and longing, saying with her

Glen of the Roes, Glen of the Roes,
In thee I have dreamed to the full my happy
  dream:
O that where the shallow bickering Ruel flows
I might hear again, o'er its flashing gleam,
The cuckoos calling by the murmuring stream.

F. M.


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