Volume II The Works of "Fiona Macleod"

"Here are told the stories of these pictures of the imagination, of magic and romance. Yet they were gravely chosen withal, and for reasons manifold . . . . . What if they be but dreams? 'We are such stuff as dreams are made of.' What if they be but magic and romance? These things are not ancient and dead, but modern and increasing. For wherever a man learns power over Nature, there is Magic; wherever he carries out an ideal into Life, there is Romance.

 

PATRICK GEDDES,

"The Interpreter"


FROM IONA.

To George Meredith.

Here, where the sound of the falling wave is faintly to be heard, and rather as in the spiral chamber of a shell than in the windy open,I write these few dedicatory words. I am alone here, betwixt sea and sky, for there is no other living thing for the seeing on this bouldered height of Dn-I except a single blue shadow that dreams slowly athwart the hillside. The bleating of lambs and ewes, the loving of kine, these come up from the Machar that lies between the west slopes and the shoreless sea to the west; these ascend as the very smoke of sound. All round the island there is a continuous breathing: deeper and more prolonged on the west, where the seaheart is; but audible everywhere. This moment, the seals on Soa are putting their breasts against the running tide: for I see a flashing of fins here and there in patches at the north end of the Sound, and already from the ruddy granite shores of the Ross there is a congregation of seafowl--gannets and guillemots, skuas and herring-gulls, the long-necked northern-diver, the tern, the cormorant. In this sunflood, the waters of the Sound dance their blue bodies and swirl their flashing white hair o' foam; and, as I look, they seem to me like children of the wind and the sunshine, leaping and running in these sungold pastures, with a laughter as sweet against the ears as the voices of children at play.

The joy of life vibrates everywhere. Yet the Weaver doth not sleep, but only dreams. He loves the sun-drowned shadows. They are invisible thus, but they are there, in the sunlight itself. Sure, they may be heard: as, an hour ago, when on my way hither by the Stairway of the Kings--for so sometimes they call here the ancient stones of the mouldered princes of long ago--I heard a mother moaning because of the son that had had to go over-sea and leave her in her old age; and heard also a child sobbing, because of the sorrow of childhood--that sorrow so mysterious, so unfathomable, so for ever incommunicable.

To the little one I spoke. But all she would say, looking up through dark, tear-wet eyes already filled with the shadow of the burden of woman, was: "Ha mee duvachus."

"Tha mi Dubhachas!--I have the gloom."

Ah, that saying! How often I have heard it in the remote Isles! "The Gloom." It is not grief, nor any common sorrow, nor that deep despondency of weariness that comes of accomplished things, too soon, too literally fulfilled. But it is akin to each of these, and involves each. It is, rather, the unconscious knowledge of the lamentation of a race, the unknowing surety of an inheritance of woe.

On the lips of the children of what people, save in the last despoiled sanctuaries of the Gael, could be heard these all too significant sayings: "Tha mi Dubhachas--I have the gloom "; " Na tha sn an Dn--If that be ordained, If it be Destiny"? Never shall I forget the lisping of this phrase--common from The Seven Hunters, that are the extreme of the Hebrid Isles, to the Rhinns of Islay, and from the Ord of Sutherland to the Mull of Cantyre--never shall I forget the lisping of this phrase in the mouth of a little birdikin of a lass, not more than three years old--a phrase caught, no doubt, as the jay catches the storm-note of the missel-thrush, but not the less significant, not the less piteous: "Ma tha sn an Dn--If it be Destiny!"

This is so. And yet not a stone's throw from where I lie, half hidden beneath an over-hanging rock, is a Pool of Healing. To this small, black-brown tarn, pilgrims of every generation, for hundreds upon hundreds of years, have come. Solitary, these: not only because the pilgrim to the Fount of Eternal Youth--which, as all Gaeldom knows, is beneath this tarn on Dn-I of Iona--must fare hither alone, and at dawn, so as to touch the healing water the moment the first sunray quickens it--but solitary, also, because those who go in quest of this Fount of Youth are the dreamers and the Children of Dreams, and these are not many, and few come to this lonely place. Yet, an Isle of Dream, Iona is, indeed. Here the last sun-worshippers bowed before the Rising of God; here Columba and his hymning priests laboured and brooded; and here Oran dreamed beneath the monkish cowl that pagan dream of his. Here, too, the eyes of Fionn and Oisin, and of many another of the heroic men and women of the Fianna, lingered often; here the Pict and the Celt bowed beneath the yoke of the Norse pirate, who, too, left his dreams, or rather his strangely beautiful soul-rainbows, as a heritage to the stricken; here, for century after century, the Gael has lived, suffered, joyed, dreamed his impossible, beautiful dream; as here, now, he still lives, still suffers patiently, still dreams, and through all and over all, broods deep against the mystery of things. He is an elemental, among the elemental forces. They have the voices of wind and sea; he has these words of the soul of the Celtic race: "Tha mi Dubhachas--Ma tha sn an Dn." It is because the Fount of Youth that is upon Dn-I of Iona is not the only Wellspring of Peace, that the Gael can front " an Dn" as he does, and can endure his "Dubhachas." Who knows where its tributaries are. They may be in your heart, or in mine, and in a myriad others.

I would that the birds of Angus Ogue might, for once, be changed, not into the kisses of love, but into doves of peace; that they might fly forth into the green world, and be nested there awhile, crooning their incommunicable song that would yet bring joy and hope.

Why, you may think, do I write these things? It is because I wish to say to you, and to all who may read this book, that in what I have said lies the Secret of the Gael. The beauty of the World, the pathos of Life, the gloom, the fatalism, the spiritual glamour--it is out of these, the inheritance of the Gael, that I have wrought these tales.

Well I know that they do not give "a rounded and complete portrait of the Celt." It is more than likely that I could not do so if I tried, but I have not tried; not even to give " a rounded and complete Portrait" of the Gael, who is to the Celtic race what the Franco-Breton is to the French, a creature not without blitheness and humour, laughter-loving, indolent, steadfast, gentle, fierce, but above all attuned to elemental passions, to the poetry of nature, and wrought in every nerve and fibre by the gloom and mystery of his environment.

Elsewhere I may give such delineation as I can, and is within my own knowledge, of the manysidedness of the Celt, and even of the insular Gael. But in this book, as in Pharais and The Mountain Lovers, I give the life of the Gael in what is, to me, in accord with my own observation and experience, its most poignant characteristics-that is, of course, in certain circumstances, in a particular environment. Almost needless to say, I do not present such mere sport of Destiny as Neil Ross, the Sin-Eater, or Neil MacCodrum ("The Dn-nan-Rn") as typical Gaels, any more than I would have Gloom Achanna, whose sombre personality colours three of the tales of Under the Dark Star, accepted as typical of the perverted Celt. They are true in their degree; that is all. But I do aver that Alasdair Achanna, the Anointed Man; and the fishermen of Iona of whom I speak; and Ian Mr of the Hills; and others akin to these are typical. This, obviously, may be said without affirming that they are "rounded and complete" types of the Gaelic Celt. Of course they are nothing of the kind. This, also, may be said: that they are not typical to the exclusion of other types. Could Ian Mr be common anywhere? Are there so many poet-dreamers? Could Ethlenn Stuart or Eilidh McIan be met with in each strath, on every hillside? Is the beautiful and one inevitable phrase to be found on any lips? All men speak of love; but only you have said the supreme thing of the passion of love; namely, that Passion is noble strength on fire. You only have said this. It is individually characteristic; it is racially typical; and yet a thousand poets have come and gone, a million million hearts have beat to this chord, and the phrase has waited, isolate, for you. Is it therefore not indicative? Whether with phrase, or the lilt of a free music, or with man--there should be no saying that he or it does not exist because invisible through the dust of the common highway.

It must not be forgotten that "the Celtic Fringe is of divers colours. The Armorican, the Cymric, the Gael of Ireland, and the Scottish Gael are of the same stock, but are not the same people. Even the crofter of Donegal or the fisherman of Clare is no more than an older or younger brother of the Hebrideann or the Highlander; certainly they are not twins, of an indistinguishable likeness. Some of my critics, heedless of the complex conditions which differentiate the Irish and the Scottish Celt, complain of the Celtic gloom that dusks the life of the men and women I have tried to draw. That may be just. I wish merely to say.that I have not striven to depict the blither Irish Celt. I have sought mainly to express something of what I have seen as paramount, something of " the Celtic Gloom which, to many Gaels if not to all, is so distinctive in the remote life of a doomed and passing race. Possibly, though of course it is unlikely they should write save out of fullness of knowledge, those of my critics to whom I allude have dwelt for years among these distant isles, intimate with the speech and mind and daily life and veiled, secretive inner nature of the men and women who inhabit them. I cannot judge, for I do not profess to know every glen in the Highlands, or to have set foot on every one of the Thousand Isles.

A doomed and passing race. Yes, but not wholly so. The Celt has at last reached his horizon.There is no shore beyond.He knows it. This has been the burden of his song since Malvina led the blind Oisin to his grave by the sea. "Even the Children of Light must go down into darkness." But this apparition of a passing race is no more than the fulfillment of a glorious resurrection before our very eyes. For the genius of the Celtic race stands out now with averted torch, and the light of it is a glory before the eyes, and the flame of it is blown into the hearts of the mightier conquering people. The Celt falls, but his spirit rises in the heart and the brain of the Anglo-Celtic peoples, with whom are the destinies of the generations to come.

Well, this is a far cry, from one small voice on the hill-slope of Dn-I of Iona, to the clarion-call of the future! But, sure, even in this Isle of Joy, as it seems today in this dazzle of golden light and splashing wave there is all the gloom and all the mystery which lived in the minds of the old seers and bards. Yonder, where that thin spray quivers against the thyme-set cliff, is the Spouting Cave, where to this day the Mar-Tarbh, dread creature of the sea, swims at the full of the tide. Beyond, out of sight behind these heights, is Port-na-Churaich, where, a thousand years ago, Columba landed in his coracle. Here, eastward, is the landing-place for the dead of old, brought hence, out of Christendom, for sacred burial in the Isle of the Saints. All the story of Albyn is here. Iona is the microcosm of Gaeldom.

Last night, about the hour of the sun's going, I lay upon the heights near the Cave, overlooking the Machar--the sandy, rock frontiered plain of duneland on the west side of Iona, exposed to the Atlantic. There was neither man nor beast, no living thing to see, save one solitary human creature. This brown, bent, aged man toiled at kelp-burning. I watched the smoke till it merged into the sea-mist that came creeping swiftly out of the north, and down from Dun-I eastward. At last nothing was visible. The mist shrouded everything. I could hear the dull, rhythmic beat of the waves. That was all. No sound, nothing visible.

It was, or seemed, a long while before a rapid thud-thud trampled the heavy air. Then I heard the rush, the stamping and neighing, of some young mares, pasturing there, as they raced to and fro, bewildered or mayhap only in play. A glimpse I caught of three with flying manes and. tails; the others were blurred shadows only. A swirl, and the mist disclosed them: a swirl, and the mist enfolded them again. Then, silence once more.

All at once, though not for a long time thereafter, the mist rose and drifted seaward.

All was as before. The Kelp-Burner still stood, straking the smouldering seaweed. Above him a column ascended, bluely spiral, dusked with gloom of shadow.

The Kelp-Burner: who is he but the Gael of the Isles? Who but the Celt in his sorrow? The mist falls and the mist rises. He is there all the same, behind it, part of it: and the column of smoke is the incense out of his longing heart that desires Heaven and Earth and is dowered only with poverty and pain, hunger and weariness, a little isle of the seas, a great hope, and the love of love.

In that mist I had dreamed a dream. When I woke, these strange, unfamiliar words were upon my lips: Am Dia beo, an Domhan basacha,' an Diombair Cinne'-Daonna.

Am Dia beo, an Domhan basacha, an Iiomhair Cinne'-Daonna: "The Living God, the dying World, and the mysterious Race of Men."

I know not what obscure and remote ancestral memory rose, there, to the surface;but I imagined for a moment that the Spirit of the race, and not a solitary human being, found utterance in this so typical saying. It is the sense of an abiding spiritual Presence, of a waning a perishing World, and of the mystery and incommunicable destiny of Man, which distinguishes the ethical life of the Celt.

"The Three Powers," I murmured, as I rose to leave the place where I was. " These are the three powers. the Living God, the evanescent World, and Man.And somewhere in the darkness--an Dn, Destiny."

Yes, Ma tha sn an Dn; that is where we come to again. It is Destiny, then, that is the Protagonist in the Celtic Drama-the most moving, the most poignant of all that make up the too tragic Tragi-Comedy of human life. And it is Destiny, that sombre Demogorgon of the Gael, whose boding breath, whose menace, whose shadow, glooms so much of the remote life I know, and hence glooms also this book of interpretations -- for pages must either be interpretative or merely documentary, and these following pages have for the most part been written as by one who repeats, with curious insistence, a haunting, familiar, yet ever wild and remote air, whose obscure meanings he would fain iterate, interpret.

You, of all living writers, can best understand this; for in you the Celtic genius burns a pure flame. True, the Cymric blood that. is in you moves to a more lightsome measure than that of the Scottish Gael, and the accidents of temperament and life have combined to make you a writer for great peoples rather than for a people. But though England appropriate you as her son, and all the Anglo-Celtic peoples are the heritors of your genius, we claim your brain. Now, we are a scattered band. The Breton's eyes are slowly turning from the sea, and slowly his ears are forgetting the whisper of the wind around Menhir and Dolmen. The Cornishman has lost his language, and there is now no bond between him and his ancient kin. The Manxman has ever been the mere yeoman of the Celtic chivalry; but even his rude dialect perishes year by ear. In Wales, a great tradition survives; in Ireland, a supreme tradition fades through sunset-hued horizons to the edge o' dark; in Celtic Scotland, a passionate regret, a despairing love and longing, narrows yearly before a bastard utilitarianism which is almost as great a curse to our despoiled land as Calvinistic theology has been and is.

But with you, and others not less enthusiastic if less brilliant, we need not despair. "The Englishman may trample down the heather" say the shepherds of Argyll, "but he cannot trample down the wind."


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