Tuesday, February 19, 2008

William Butler Yeats and fairy lore

I mentioned, in my last post, a little bit about William Butler Yeats. In addition to my interests of fairy folklore, I happen to be quite interested in the history of occult practice. Very obviously, our move towards an anthropocentric culture, away from an animistic world view, has had far reaching consequences where we're no longer open to seeing a tree as a spiritual being or home of the fairies. We don't need fanciful stories that will make the questions of the world more easily understandable to us.

We don't need them, perhaps. But many of us want to.

It is said W. B. Yeats very deeply believed in the reality of fairies, in fact, it was quoted that he "was fully aware of the 'everyday aspect' of fairy lore and had great respect for it." Ireland, and its people, are still today one of the regions who most believe in the existence of supernatural creatures. It's a large part of why I so love the chance to set novels in Ireland. There's a piece of that suspension of disbelief that seems to come from the country itself to aid in the acceptance of fantasy aspects of a book set in Ireland, or medieval Europe. The number of fantasy novels written in a nondescript medieval fantasy location would tend to give proof to this argument.

To give a taste of W. B. Yeats' writing inspired by what he believed of the fairy folk, this is his poem, The Hosting of the Sidhe

The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling
Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the dead of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.
The host is rushing 'twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or ded as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling
Away, come away.