|'I have seen all things
pass and all men go
Under the shadow of the drifting leaf.'
(The Immortal Hour.)
'. . . Only to gods in
Comes no Old age or death of anything;
All else is turmoiled by our master Time.
The earth's strength fades and manhood's glory fades,
Faith dies, and unfaith blossoms like a flower.
And who shall find in the open streets of men,
Or secret places of his own heart's love,
One wind blow true for ever. . .
SOPHOCLES: Oedipus at Col˘nus.
'A dream about a shadow is man: yet when
some God-given splendour falls, a glory of light
comes over him, and his life is sweet.'
The Dominion of Dreams
I have heard you calling, Dalua,
I have heard you on the hill,
By the pool-side still,
Where the lapwings shrill
Dalua . . . Dalua . . . Dalua!
What is it you call, Dalua,
When the rains fall,
When the mists crawl,
And the curlews call
Dalua . . . Dalua . . . Dalua!
I am the Fool, Dalua,
When men hear me, their eyes
Darken: the shadow in the skies
Droops: and the keening-woman cries
Dalua . . . Dalua . . . Dalua!
one of the names of a mysterious being in the Celtic mythology, the Amadan-Dhu, the
Dark Witless One, or Fairy Fool.
One night when Dan Macara was going over the
hillside of Ben Breacan, he saw a tall man playing the pipes, and before him a great flock
It was a night of the falling mist that makes a thin soundless rain. But behind the blurr
was a rainpool of light, a pool that oozed into a wan flood; and so Macara knew that the
moon was up and was riding against the drift, and would pull the rain away from the hill.
Even in slow rain, with damp moss or soaking heather, sheep do not go silently. Macara
wondered if they were all young rams, that there was not a crying uan or a bleating
ewe to be heard. "By the Black Stone of Iona," he muttered, "there is not
even a broken oisg among them."
True, there was a faint rising and falling mÚh-ing high in the darkness of the
hillside; but that melancholy sound as of lost children crying, was confused with the
rustling of many leaves of ash and birch, with eddies of air through the heather and among
the fronds of the bracken, and with the uncertain hum of trickling waters. No one
utterance slid cleanly through the gloom, but only the voice of darkness as it speaks
among the rainy hills.
As he stumbled along the path, stony and rain-gutted, but held together by the tough
heather-fibres, he thought of the comfortable room he had left in the farmhouse of
PÓdruig and Mary Macrae, where the very shadows were so warm, and the hot milk and whisky
had been so comfortable too; and warm and comfortable both, the good friendly words of
PÓdruig and Mary.
He wiped the rain from his wet lips, and smiled as he remembered Mary's words:
You, now, so tall and big, an' not ill-looking at that, for a dark Macara. . . and yet
with no woman to your side! . . . an' you with the thirty years on you! . . . for sure I
would have shame in going through the Strath, with the girls knowing that!" But just
then he heard the broken notes of the feadan, or "chanter," that came from the
tall man playing the pipes, with the great flock of sheep before him. It was like the
flight of pee-wits, all this way and that.
What with the dark and the rain and the whisky and the good words of Mhairi BÓn, my
head's like a black bog," he muttered; "and the playing of that man there is
like the way o' voices in the bog."
Then he heard without the wilderness in his ears. The air came faint but clear. It angered
him. It was like a mocking voice. Perhaps this was because it was like a mockin voice.
Perhaps because it was the old pipe-song, "Oighean bhoidheach, slan leibh!"
"Ye pretty maids, farewell!" "Who will he be?" he wondered sullenly.
"If it's Peter Macandrewl Ardmore's shepherd, I'll play him a tune behind the wind
that he won't like."
Then the tall man suddenly changed his chanter-music, and the wet night was full of a
wild, forlorn, beautiful air.
Dan Macara had never heard that playing before, and he did not like it. Once, when he was
a child, he had heard his mother tell Alan Dall, a blind piper of the Catanach, to stop an
air that he was playing, because it had sobs and tears in it. He moved swiftly now to
overtake the man with the flock of sheep. His playing was like Alan Dall's. He wanted,
too, to ask him who he was, and whose chanter-magic he had, and where he was going (and
the hill way at that!) with all those sheep.
But it took him a long time to get near. He ran at last, but he got no nearer. "Gu
ma h-olc dhut . . . ill befall thee," he cried angrily after a time; "go
your own way, and may the night swallow you and your flock."
And with that, Dan Macara turned to follow the burnside-way again.
But once more the tall man with the flock of sheep changed the air that he was playing.
Macara stopped and listened. It was sweet to hear. Was this a sudden magic that was played
upon him? Had not the rain abruptly ceased, as a breath withdrawn? He stared
confusedly: for sure, there was no rain, and moonlight lay upon the fern and upon a
white birch that stood solitary in that white-green waste. The sprays of the birch were
like a rain of pale shimmering gold. A bird slid along a topmost branch; blue, with breast
like white iris, and with wild-rose wings. Macara could see its eyes a-shine, two little
starry flames. Song came from it, slow, broken, like water in a stony channel. With each
note the years of Time ran laughing through ancient woods, and old age sighed across the
world and sank into the earth, and the sea world moaned with the burden of all moaning and
all tears. The stars moved in a jocund measure; a player sat among themand played, the
moon his footstool and the sun a flaming gem above his brows. The song was Youth.
Dan Macara stood. Dreams and visions ran past him, laughing, with starry eyes.
He closed his own eyes, trembling. When he opened them he saw no bird. The grey blurr of
the rain came through the darkness.
The cold green smell of the bog-myrtle filled the night.
But he was close to the shepherd now. Where had he heard that air? It was one of those old
fonnsheen, for sure: yes, " A Choill teach ┘rair," "The Green
Woodland" . . . that was it. But he had never heard it played like that.
The man did not look round as Dan Macara drew near. The pipes were shadowy black, and had
long black streamers from them. The man wore a Highland bonnet, with a black plume hanging
The wet slurred moonshine came out as the rain ceased. Dan looked over the shoulder of the
man at the long, straggling crowd of sheep.
He saw then that they were only a flock of shadows.
They were of all shapes and sizes; and Macara knew, without knowing how he knew, that they
were the shadows of all that the shepherd had found in his day's wandering --- from the
shadows of tall pines to the shadows of daisies, from the shadows of horned cattle to the
shadows of fawns and field mice, from the shadow of a woman at a well to that of a wild
rose trailing on the roadside, from the shadow of a dead man in a corrie, and of a boy
playing on a reed with three holes, and the shadows of flying birds and drifting clouds,
and the slow, formless shadows of stones, to (as he saw with a sudden terror) the shadow
of Dan Macara himself, idly decked with feather-like bracken, where he had lost it an hour
ago in the darkness, when he had first heard the far-off broken lilt of the pipes.
Filled with an anger that was greater than his terror, Dan Macara ran forward, and strove
to grasp the man by the shoulder; but with a crash he came against a great slab of
granite, with its lichened sides wet and slippery with the hill mist. As he fell, he
struck his head and screamed. Before silence and darkness closed in upon him like two
waves, he heard Dalua's mocking laughter far up among the hills, and saw a great flock of
curlews rise from where the shadows had been.
When he woke there was no more mist on the hill. The moonlight turned the raindrops on the
bracken into infinite little wells of light.
All night he wandered, looking for the curlew that was his shadow.
Toward the edge of day he lay down. Sleep was on him, soft and quiet as the breastfeather
of a mothering bird. His head was in a tuft of grass: above it a moist star hung, a white
solitude --- a silent solitude.
Dalua stood by him, brooding darkly. He was no shepherd now, but had cloudy black hair
like the thin shadows of branches at dusk, and wild eyes, obscure as the brown-black tarns
in the heather.
He looked at the star, smiling darkly. Then it moved against the dawn, and paled. It was
no more. The man lay solitary.
It was the gloaming of the dawn. Many shadows stirred. Dalua lifted one. It was the shadow
of a reed. He put it to his mouth and played upon it.
Above, in the greying waste, a bird wheeled this way and that. Then the curlew flew down,
and stood quivering, with eyes wild as Dalua's. He looked at it, and played it into a
shadow; and looked at the sleeping man, and played that shadow into his sleeping mind.
"There is your shadow for you," he said, and touched Dan.
At that touch Macara shivered all over. Then he woke with a laugh. He saw the dawn sliding
along the tops of the pines on the east slope of Ben Breacan.
He rose. He threw his cromak away. Then he gave three wails of the wailing cry of the
curlew, and wandered idly back by the way he had come.
It was years and years after that when I saw him.
"How did this madness come upon him?" I asked; for I recalled him strong and
"The Dark Fool, the Amadan-Dhu, touched him. No one knows any more than that. But
that is a true thing."
He hated or feared nothing, save only shadows. These disquieted him, by the hearthside or
upon the great lonely moors. He was quiet, and loved running water and the hill-wind. But
at times, the wailing of curlews threw him into a frenzy.
I asked him once why he was so sad. "I have heard," he said . . . and then
stared idly at me; adding suddenly, as though remembering words spoken by
another:---" I'm always hearing the three old ancientest cries: the cry of the
curlew, an' the wind, an' the sighin' of the sea."
He was ever witless, and loved wandering among the hills. No child feared him. He had a
lost love in his face. At night, on the sighing moors, or on the glen-road, his eyes were
like stars in a pool, but with a light more tender.