Stories of Red Hanrahan

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(1905)



CONTENTS.

STORIES OF RED HANRAHAN:

RED HANRAHAN
THE TWISTING OF THE ROPE
HANRAHAN AND CATHLEEN THE DAUGHTER OF HOOLIHAN
RED HANRAHAN'S CURSE
HANRAHAN'S VISION
THE DEATH OF HANRAHAN


I owe thanks to Lady Gregory, who helped me to rewrite The Stories of
Red Hanrahan in the beautiful country speech of Kiltartan, and nearer
to the tradition of the people among whom he, or some likeness of
him, drifted and is remembered.


RED HANRAHAN.

Hanrahan, the hedge schoolmaster, a tall, strong, red-haired young
man, came into the barn where some of the men of the village were
sitting on Samhain Eve. It had been a dwelling-house, and when the
man that owned it had built a better one, he had put the two rooms
together, and kept it for a place to store one thing or another.
There was a fire on the old hearth, and there were dip candles stuck
in bottles, and there was a black quart bottle upon some boards that
had been put across two barrels to make a table. Most of the men were
sitting beside the fire, and one of them was singing a long wandering
song, about a Munster man and a Connaught man that were quarrelling
about their two provinces.

Hanrahan went to the man of the house and said, 'I got your message';
but when he had said that, he stopped, for an old mountainy man that
had a shirt and trousers of unbleached flannel, and that was sitting
by himself near the door, was looking at him, and moving an old pack
of cards about in his hands and muttering. 'Don't mind him,' said the
man of the house; 'he is only some stranger came in awhile ago, and
we bade him welcome, it being Samhain night, but I think he is not in
his right wits. Listen to him now and you will hear what he is
saying.'

They listened then, and they could hear the old man muttering to
himself as he turned the cards, 'Spades and Diamonds, Courage and
Power; Clubs and Hearts, Knowledge and Pleasure.'

'That is the kind of talk he has been going on with for the last
hour,' said the man of the house, and Hanrahan turned his eyes from
the old man as if he did not like to be looking at him.

'I got your message,' Hanrahan said then; '"he is in the barn with
his three first cousins from Kilchriest," the messenger said, "and
there are some of the neighbours with them."'

'It is my cousin over there is wanting to see you,' said the man of
the house, and he called over a young frieze-coated man, who was
listening to the song, and said, 'This is Red Hanrahan you have the
message for.'

'It is a kind message, indeed,' said the young man, 'for it comes
from your sweetheart, Mary Lavelle.'

'How would you get a message from her, and what do you know of her?'

'I don't know her, indeed, but I was in Loughrea yesterday, and a
neighbour of hers that had some dealings with me was saying that she
bade him send you word, if he met any one from this side in the
market, that her mother has died from her, and if you have a mind yet
to join with herself, she is willing to keep her word to you.'

'I will go to her indeed,' said Hanrahan.

'And she bade you make no delay, for if she has not a man in the
house before the month is out, it is likely the little bit of land
will be given to another.'

When Hanrahan heard that, he rose up from the bench he had sat down
on. 'I will make no delay indeed,' he said, 'there is a full moon,
and if I get as far as Gilchreist to-night, I will reach to her
before the setting of the sun to-morrow.'

When the others heard that, they began to laugh at him for being in
such haste to go to his sweetheart, and one asked him if he would
leave his school in the old lime-kiln, where he was giving the
children such good learning. But he said the children would be glad
enough in the morning to find the place empty, and no one to keep
them at their task; and as for his school he could set it up again in
any place, having as he had his little inkpot hanging from his neck
by a chain, and his big Virgil and his primer in the skirt of his
coat.

Some of them asked him to drink a glass before he went, and a young
man caught hold of his coat, and said he must not leave them without
singing the song he had made in praise of Venus and of Mary Lavelle.
He drank a glass of whiskey, but he said he would not stop but would
set out on his journey.

'There's time enough, Red Hanrahan,' said the man of the house. 'It
will be time enough for you to give up sport when you are after your
marriage, and it might be a long time before we will see you again.'

'I will not stop,' said Hanrahan; 'my mind would be on the roads all
the time, bringing me to the woman that sent for me, and she lonesome
and watching till I come.'

Some of the others came about him, pressing him that had been such a
pleasant comrade, so full of songs and every kind of trick and fun,
not to leave them till the night would be over, but he refused them
all, and shook them off, and went to the door. But as he put his foot
over the threshold, the strange old man stood up and put his hand
that was thin and withered like a bird's claw on Hanrahan's hand, and
said: 'It is not Hanrahan, the learned man and the great songmaker,
that should go out from a gathering like this, on a Samhain night.
And stop here, now,' he said, 'and play a hand with me; and here is
an old pack of cards has done its work many a night before this, and
old as it is, there has been much of the riches of the world lost and
won over it.'

One of the young men said, 'It isn't much of the riches of the world
has stopped with yourself, old man,' and he looked at the old man's
bare feet, and they all laughed. But Hanrahan did not laugh, but he
sat down very quietly, without a word. Then one of them said, 'So you
will stop with us after all, Hanrahan'; and the old man said: 'He
will stop indeed, did you not hear me asking him?'

They all looked at the old man then as if wondering where he came
from. 'It is far I am come,' he said, 'through France I have come,
and through Spain, and by Lough Greine of the hidden mouth, and none
has refused me anything.' And then he was silent and nobody liked to
question him, and they began to play. There were six men at the
boards playing, and the others were looking on behind. They played
two or three games for nothing, and then the old man took a fourpenny
bit, worn very thin and smooth, out from his pocket, and he called to
the rest to put something on the game. Then they all put down
something on the boards, and little as it was it looked much, from
the way it was shoved from one to another, first one man winning it
and then his neighbour. And some-times the luck would go against a
man and he would have nothing left, and then one or another would
lend him something, and he would pay it again out of his winnings,
for neither good nor bad luck stopped long with anyone.

And once Hanrahan said as a man would say in a dream, 'It is time for
me to be going the road'; but just then a good card came to him, and
he played it out, and all the money began to come to him. And once he
thought of Mary Lavelle, and he sighed; and that time his luck went
from him, and he forgot her again.

But at last the luck went to the old man and it stayed with him, and
all they had flowed into him, and he began to laugh little laughs to
himself, and to sing over and over to himself, 'Spades and Diamonds,
Courage and Power,' and so on, as if it was a verse of a song.

And after a while anyone looking at the men, and seeing the way their
bodies were rocking to and fro, and the way they kept their eyes on
the old man's hands, would think they had drink taken, or that the
whole store they had in the world was put on the cards; but that was
not so, for the quart bottle had not been disturbed since the game
began, and was nearly full yet, and all that was on the game was a
few sixpenny bits and shillings, and maybe a handful of coppers.

'You are good men to win and good men to lose,' said the old man,
'you have play in your hearts.' He began then to shuffle the cards
and to mix them, very quick and fast, till at last they could not see
them to be cards at all, but you would think him to be making rings
of fire in the air, as little lads would make them with whirling a
lighted stick; and after that it seemed to them that all the room was
dark, and they could see nothing but his hands and the cards.

And all in a minute a hare made a leap out from between his hands,
and whether it was one of the cards that took that shape, or whether
it was made out of nothing in the palms of his hands, nobody knew,
but there it was running on the floor of the barn, as quick as any
hare that ever lived.

Some looked at the hare, but more kept their eyes on the old man, and
while they were looking at him a hound made a leap out between his
hands, the same way as the hare did, and after that another hound and
another, till there was a whole pack of them following the hare round
and round the barn.

The players were all standing up now, with their backs to the boards,
shrinking from the hounds, and nearly deafened with the noise of
their yelping, but as quick as the hounds were they could not
overtake the hare, but it went round, till at the last it seemed as
if a blast of wind burst open the barn door, and the hare doubled and
made a leap over the boards where the men had been playing, and went
out of the door and away through the night, and the hounds over the
boards and through the door after it.

Then the old man called out, 'Follow the hounds, follow the hounds,
and it is a great hunt you will see to-night,' and he went out after
them. But used as the men were to go hunting after hares, and ready
as they were for any sport, they were in dread to go out into the
night, and it was only Hanrahan that rose up and that said, 'I will
follow, I will follow on.'

'You had best stop here, Hanrahan,' the young man that was nearest
him said, 'for you might be going into some great danger.' But
Hanrahan said, 'I will see fair play, I will see fair play,' and he
went stumbling out of the door like a man in a dream, and the door
shut after him as he went.

He thought he saw the old man in front of him, but it was only his
own shadow that the full moon cast on the road before him, but he
could hear the hounds crying after the hare over the wide green
fields of Granagh, and he followed them very fast for there was
nothing to stop him; and after a while he came to smaller fields that
had little walls of loose stones around them, and he threw the stones
down as he crossed them, and did not wait to put them up again; and
he passed by the place where the river goes under ground at Ballylee,
and he could hear the hounds going before him up towards the head of
the river. Soon he found it harder to run, for it was uphill he was
going, and clouds came over the moon, and it was hard for him to see
his way, and once he left the path to take a short cut, but his foot
slipped into a boghole and he had to come back to it. And how long he
was going he did not know, or what way he went, but at last he was up
on the bare mountain, with nothing but the rough heather about him,
and he could neither hear the hounds nor any other thing. But their
cry began to come to him again, at first far off and then very near,
and when it came quite close to him, it went up all of a sudden into
the air, and there was the sound of hunting over his head; then it
went away northward till he could hear nothing more at all. 'That's
not fair,' he said, 'that's not fair.' And he could walk no longer,
but sat down on the heather where he was, in the heart of Slieve
Echtge, for all the strength had gone from him, with the dint of the
long journey he had made.

And after a while he took notice that there was a door close to him,
and a light coming from it, and he wondered that being so close to
him he had not seen it before. And he rose up, and tired as he was he
went in at the door, of and although it was night time outside, it
was daylight he found within. And presently he met with an old man
that had been gathering summer thyme and yellow flag-flowers, and it
seemed as if all the sweet smells of the summer were with them. And
the old man said: 'It is a long time you have been coming to us,
Hanrahan the learned man and the great songmaker.'

And with that he brought him into a very big shining house, and every
grand thing Hanrahan had ever heard of, and every colour he had ever
seen, were in it. There was a high place at the end of the house, and
on it there was sitting in a high chair a woman, the most beautiful
the world ever saw, having a long pale face and flowers about it, but
she had the tired look of one that had been long waiting. And there
was sitting on the step below her chair four grey old women, and the
one of them was holding a great cauldron in her lap; and another a
great stone on her knees, and heavy as it was it seemed light to her;
and another of them had a very long spear that was made of pointed
wood; and the last of them had a sword that was without a scabbard.
Red Hanrahan stood looking at them for a long Hanrahan-time, but none
of them spoke any word to him or looked at him at all. And he had it
in his mind to ask who that woman in the chair was, that was like a
queen, and what she was waiting for; but ready as he was with his
tongue and afraid of no person, he was in dread now to speak to so
beautiful a woman, and in so grand a place. And then he thought to
ask what were the four things the four grey old women were holding
like great treasures, but he could not think of the right words to
bring out.

Then the first of the old women rose up, holding the cauldron between
her two hands, and she said 'Pleasure,' and Hanrahan said no word.
Then the second old woman rose up with the stone in her hands, and
she said 'Power'; and the third old woman rose up with the spear in
her hand, and she said 'Courage'; and the last of the old women rose
up having the sword in her hands, and she said 'Knowledge.' And
everyone, after she had spoken, waited as if for Hanrahan to question
her, but he said nothing at all. And then the four old women went out
of the door, bringing their tour treasures with them, and as they
went out one of them said, 'He has no wish for us'; and another said,
'He is weak, he is weak'; and another said, 'He is afraid'; and the
last said, 'His wits are gone from him.' And then they all said
'Echtge, daughter of the Silver Hand, must stay in her sleep. It is a
pity, it is a great pity.'

And then the woman that was like a queen gave a very sad sigh, and it
seemed to Hanrahan as if the sigh had the sound in it of hidden
streams; and if the place he was in had been ten times grander and
more shining than it was, he could not have hindered sleep from
coming on him; and he staggered like a drunken man and lay down there
and then.

When Hanrahan awoke, the sun was shining on his face, but there was
white frost on the grass around him, and there was ice on the edge of
the stream he was lying by, and that goes running on through Daire-
caol and Druim-da-rod. He knew by the shape of the hills and by the
shining of Lough Greine in the distance that he was upon one of the
hills of Slieve Echtge, but he was not sure how he came there; for
all that had happened in the barn had gone from him, and all of his
journey but the soreness of his feet and the stiffness in his bones.

It was a year after that, there were men of the village of
Cappaghtagle sitting by the fire in a house on the roadside, and Red
Hanrahan that was now very thin and worn and his hair very long and
wild, came to the half-door and asked leave to come in and rest
himself; and they bid him welcome because it was Samhain night. He
sat down with them, and they gave him a glass of whiskey out of a
quart bottle; and they saw the little inkpot hanging about his neck,
and knew he was a scholar, and asked for stories about the Greeks.

He took the Virgil out of the big pocket of his coat, but the cover
was very black and swollen with the wet, and the page when he opened
it was very yellow, but that was no great matter, for he looked at it
like a man that had never learned to read. Some young man that was
there began to laugh at him then, and to ask why did he carry so
heavy a book with him when he was not able to read it.

It vexed Hanrahan to hear that, and he put the Virgil back in his
pocket and asked if they had a pack of cards among them, for cards
were better than books. When they brought out the cards he took them
and began to shuffle them, and while he was shuffling them something
seemed to come into his mind, and he put his hand to his face like
one that is trying to remember, and he said: 'Was I ever here before,
or where was I on a night like this?' and then of a sudden he stood
up and let the cards fall to the floor, and he said, 'Who was it
brought me a message from Mary Lavelle?'

'We never saw you before now, and we never heard of Mary Lavelle,'
said the man of the house. 'And who is she,' he said, 'and what is it
you are talking about?'

'It was this night a year ago, I was in a barn, and there were men
playing cards, and there was money on the table, they were pushing it
from one to another here and there--and I got a message, and I was
going out of the door to look for my sweetheart that wanted me, Mary
Lavelle.' And then Hanrahan called out very loud: 'Where have I been
since then? Where was I for the whole year?'

'It is hard to say where you might have been in that time,' said the
oldest of the men, 'or what part of the world you may have travelled;
and it is like enough you have the dust of many roads on your feet;
for there are many go wandering and forgetting like that,' he said,
'when once they have been given the touch.'

'That is true,' said another of the men. 'I knew a woman went
wandering like that through the length of seven years; she came back
after, and she told her friends she had often been glad enough to eat
the food that was put in the pig's trough. And it is best for you to
go to the priest now,' he said, 'and let him take off you whatever
may have been put upon you.'

'It is to my sweetheart I will go, to Mary Lavelle,' said Hanrahan;
'it is too long I have delayed, how do I know what might have
happened her in the length of a year?'

He was going out of the door then, but they all told him it was best
for him to stop the night, and to get strength for the journey; and
indeed he wanted that, for he was very weak, and when they gave him
food he eat it like a man that had never seen food before, and one of
them said, 'He is eating as if he had trodden on the hungry grass.'
It was in the white light of the morning he set out, and the time
seemed long to him till he could get to Mary Lavelle's house. But
when he came to it, he found the door broken, and the thatch dropping
from the roof, and no living person to be seen. And when he asked the
neighbours what had happened her, all they could say was that she had
been put out of the house, and had married some labouring man, and
they had gone looking for work to London or Liverpool or some big
place. And whether she found a worse place or a better he never knew,
but anyway he never met with her or with news of her again.


THE TWISTING OF THE ROPE.


Hanrahan was walking the roads one time near Kinvara at the fall of
day, and he heard the sound of a fiddle from a house a little way off
the roadside. He turned up the path to it, for he never had the habit
of passing by any place where there was music or dancing or good
company, without going in. The man of the house was standing at the
door, and when Hanrahan came near he knew him and he said: 'A welcome
before you, Hanrahan, you have been lost to us this long time.' But
the woman of the house came to the door and she said to her husband:
'I would be as well pleased for Hanrahan not to come in to-night, for
he has no good name now among the priests, or with women that mind
themselves, and I wouldn't wonder from his walk if he has a drop of
drink taken.' But the man said, 'I will never turn away Hanrahan of
the poets from my door,' and with that he bade him enter.

There were a good many neighbours gathered in the house, and some of
them remembered Hanrahan; but some of the little lads that were in
the corners had only heard of him, and they stood up to have a view
of him, and one of them said: 'Is not that Hanrahan that had the
school, and that was brought away by Them?' But his mother put her
hand over his mouth and bade him be quiet, and not be saying things
like that. 'For Hanrahan is apt to grow wicked,' she said, 'if he
hears talk of that story, or if anyone goes questioning him.' One or
another called out then, asking him for a song, but the man of the
house said it was no time to ask him for a song, before he had rested
himself; and he gave him whiskey in a glass, and Hanrahan thanked him
and wished him good health and drank it off.

The fiddler was tuning his fiddle for another dance, and the man of
the house said to the young men, they would all know what dancing was
like when they saw Hanrahan dance, for the like of it had never been
seen since he was there before. Hanrahan said he would not dance, he
had better use for his feet now, travelling as he was through the
five provinces of Ireland. Just as he said that, there came in at the
half-door Oona, the daughter of the house, having a few bits of bog
deal from Connemara in her arms for the fire. She threw them on the
hearth and the flame rose up, and showed her to be very comely and
smiling, and two or three of the young men rose up and asked for a
dance. But Hanrahan crossed the floor and brushed the others away,
and said it was with him she must dance, after the long road he had
travelled before he came to her. And it is likely he said some soft
word in her ear, for she said nothing against it, and stood out with
him, and there were little blushes in her cheeks. Then other couples
stood up, but when the dance was going to begin, Hanrahan chanced to
look down, and he took notice of his boots that were worn and broken,
and the ragged grey socks showing through them; and he said angrily
it was a bad floor, and the music no great things, and he sat down in
the dark place beside the hearth. But if he did, the girl sat down
there with him.

The dancing went on, and when that dance was over another was called
for, and no one took much notice of Oona and Red Hanrahan for a
while, in the corner where they were. But the mother grew to be
uneasy, and she called to Oona to come and help her to set the table
in the inner room. But Oona that had never refused her before, said
she would come soon, but not yet, for she was listening to whatever
he was saying in her ear. The mother grew yet more uneasy then, and
she would come nearer them, and let on to be stirring the fire or
sweeping the hearth, and she would listen for a minute to hear what
the poet was saying to her child. And one time she heard him telling
about white-handed Deirdre, and how she brought the sons of Usnach to
their death; and how the blush in her cheeks was not so red as the
blood of kings' sons that was shed for her, and her sorrows had never
gone out of mind; and he said it was maybe the memory of her that
made the cry of the plover on the bog as sorrowful in the ear of the
poets as the keening of young men for a comrade. And there would
never have been that memory of her, he said, if it was not for the
poets that had put her beauty in their songs. And the next time she
did not well understand what he was saying, but as far as she could
hear, it had the sound of poetry though it was not rhymed, and this
is what she heard him say: 'The sun and the moon are the man and the
girl, they are my life and your life, they are travelling and ever
travelling through the skies as if under the one hood. It was God
made them for one another. He made your life and my life before the
beginning of the world, he made them that they might go through the
world, up and down, like the two best dancers that go on with the
dance up and down the long floor of the barn, fresh and laughing,
when all the rest are tired out and leaning against the wall.'

The old woman went then to where her husband was playing cards, but
he would take no notice of her, and then she went to a woman of the
neighbours and said: 'Is there no way we can get them from one
another?' and without waiting for an answer she said to some young
men that were talking together: 'What good are you when you cannot
make the best girl in the house come out and dance with you? And go
now the whole of you,' she said, 'and see can you bring her away from
the poet's talk.' But Oona would not listen to any of them, but only
moved her hand as if to send them away. Then they called to Hanrahan
and said he had best dance with the girl himself, or let her dance
with one of them. When Hanrahan heard what they were saying he said:
'That is so, I will dance with her; there is no man in the house must
dance with her but myself.'

He stood up with her then, and led her out by the hand, and some of
the young men were vexed, and some began mocking at his ragged coat
and his broken boots. But he took no notice, and Oona took no notice,
but they looked at one another as if all the world belonged to
themselves alone. But another couple that had been sitting together
like lovers stood out on the floor at the same time, holding one
another's hands and moving their feet to keep time with the music.
But Hanrahan turned his back on them as if angry, and in place of
dancing he began to sing, and as he sang he held her hand, and his
voice grew louder, and the mocking of the young men stopped, and the
fiddle stopped, and there was nothing heard but his voice that had in
it the sound of the wind. And what he sang was a song he had heard or
had made one time in his wanderings on Slieve Echtge, and the words
of it as they can be put into English were like this:

O Death's old bony finger
Will never find us there
In the high hollow townland
Where love's to give and to spare;
Where boughs have fruit and blossom
At all times of the year;
Where rivers are running over
With red beer and brown beer.
An old man plays the bagpipes
In a gold and silver wood;
Queens, their eyes blue like the ice,
Are dancing in a crowd.

And while he was singing it Oona moved nearer to him, and the colour
had gone from her cheek, and her eyes were not blue now, but grey
with the tears that were in them, and anyone that saw her would have
thought she was ready to follow him there and then from the west to
the east of the world.

But one of the young men called out: 'Where is that country he is
singing about? Mind yourself, Oona, it is a long way off, you might
be a long time on the road before you would reach to it.' And another
said: 'It is not to the Country of the Young you will be going if you
go with him, but to Mayo of the bogs.' Oona looked at him then as if
she would question him, but he raised her hand in his hand, and
called out between singing and shouting: 'It is very near us that
country is, it is on every side; it may be on the bare hill behind it
is, or it may be in the heart of the wood.' And he said out very loud
and clear: 'In the heart of the wood; oh, death will never find us in
the heart of the wood. And will you come with me there, Oona?' he
said.

But while he was saying this the two old women had gone outside the
door, and Oona's mother was crying, and she said: 'He has put an
enchantment on Oona. Can we not get the men to put him out of the
house?'

'That is a thing you cannot do, said the other woman,' for he is a
poet of the Gael, and you know well if you would put a poet of the
Gael out of the house, he would put a curse on you that would wither
the corn in the fields and dry up the milk of the cows, if it had to
hang in the air seven years.'

'God help us,' said the mother, 'and why did I ever let him into the
house at all, and the wild name he has!'

'It would have been no harm at all to have kept him outside, but
there would great harm come upon you if you put him out by force. But
listen to the plan I have to get him out of the house by his own
doing, without anyone putting him from it at all.'

It was not long after that the two women came in again, each of them
having a bundle of hay in her apron. Hanrahan was not singing now,
but he was talking to Oona very fast and soft, and he was saying:
'The house is narrow but the world is wide, and there is no true
lover that need be afraid of night or morning or sun or stars or
shadows of evening, or any earthly thing.' 'Hanrahan,' said the
mother then, striking him on the shoulder, 'will you give me a hand
here for a minute?' 'Do that, Hanrahan,' said the woman of the
neighbours, 'and help us to make this hay into a rope, for you are
ready with your hands, and a blast of wind has loosened the thatch on
the haystack.'

'I will do that for you,' said he, and he took the little stick in
his hands, and the mother began giving out the hay, and he twisting
it, but he was hurrying to have done with it, and to be free again.
The women went on talking and giving out the hay, and encouraging
him, and saying what a good twister of a rope he was, better than
their own neighbours or than anyone they had ever seen. And Hanrahan
saw that Oona was watching him, and he began to twist very quick and
with his head high, and to boast of the readiness of his hands, and
the learning he had in his head, and the strength in his arms. And as
he was boasting, he went backward, twisting the rope always till he
came to the door that was open behind him, and without thinking he
passed the threshold and was out on the road. And no sooner was he
there than the mother made a sudden rush, and threw out the rope
after him, and she shut the door and the half-door and put a bolt
upon them.

She was well pleased when she had done that, and laughed out loud,
and the neighbours laughed and praised her. But they heard him
beating at the door, and saying words of cursing outside it, and the
mother had but time to stop Oona that had her hand upon the bolt to
open it. She made a sign to the fiddler then, and he began a reel,
and one of the young men asked no leave but caught hold of Oona and
brought her into the thick of the dance. And when it was over and the
fiddle had stopped, there was no sound at all of anything outside,
but the road was as quiet as before.

As to Hanrahan, when he knew he was shut out and that there was
neither shelter nor drink nor a girl's ear for him that night, the
anger and the courage went out of him, and he went on to where the
waves were beating on the strand.

He sat down on a big stone, and he began swinging his right arm and
singing slowly to himself, the way he did always to hearten himself
when every other thing failed him. And whether it was that time or
another time he made the song that is called to this day 'The
Twisting of the Rope,' and that begins, 'What was the dead cat that
put me in this place,' is not known.

But after he had been singing awhile, mist and shadows seemed to
gather about him, sometimes coming out of the sea, and sometimes
moving upon it. It seemed to him that one of the shadows was the
queen-woman he had seen in her sleep at Slieve Echtge; not in her
sleep now, but mocking, and calling out to them that were behind her:
'He was weak, he was weak, he had no courage.' And he felt the
strands of the rope in his hand yet, and went on twisting it, but it
seemed to him as he twisted, that it had all the sorrows of the world
in it. And then it seemed to him as if the rope had changed in his
dream into a great water-worm that came out of the sea, and that
twisted itself about him, and held him closer and closer, and grew
from big to bigger till the whole of the earth and skies were wound
up in it, and the stars themselves were but the shining of the ridges
of its skin. And then he got free of it, and went on, shaking and
unsteady, along the edge of the strand, and the grey shapes were
flying here and there around him. And this is what they were saying,
'It is a pity for him that refuses the call of the daughters of the
Sidhe, for he will find no comfort in the love of the women of the
earth to the end of life and time, and the cold of the grave is in
his heart for ever. It is death he has chosen; let him die, let him
die, let him die.'


HANRAHAN AND CATHLEEN THE DAUGHTER OF HOOLIHAN.


It was travelling northward Hanrahan was one time, giving a hand to a
farmer now and again in the hurried time of the year, and telling his
stories and making his share of songs at wakes and at weddings.

He chanced one day to overtake on the road to Collooney one Margaret
Rooney, a woman he used to know in Munster when he was a young man.
She had no good name at that time, and it was the priest routed her
out of the place at last. He knew her by her walk and by the colour
of her eyes, and by a way she had of putting back the hair off her
face with her left hand. She had been wandering about, she said,
selling herrings and the like, and now she was going back to Sligo,
to the place in the Burrough where she was living with another woman,
Mary Gillis, who had much the same story as herself. She would be
well pleased, she said, if he would come and stop in the house with
them, and be singing his songs to the bacachs and blind men and
fiddlers of the Burrough. She remembered him well, she said, and had
a wish for him; and as to Mary Gillis, she had some of his songs off
by heart, so he need not be afraid of not getting good treatment, and
all the bacachs and poor men that heard him would give him a share of
their own earnings for his stories and his songs while he was with
them, and would carry his name into all the parishes of Ireland.

He was glad enough to go with her, and to find a woman to be
listening to the story of his troubles and to be comforting him. It
was at the moment of the fall of day when every man may pass as
handsome and every woman as comely. She put her arm about him when he
told her of the misfortune of the Twisting of the Rope, and in the
half light she looked as well as another.

They kept in talk all the way to the Burrough, and as for Mary
Gillis, when she saw him and heard who he was, she went near crying
to think of having a man with so great a name in the house.

Hanrahan was well pleased to settle down with them for a while, for
he was tired with wandering; and since the day he found the little
cabin fallen in, and Mary Lavelle gone from it, and the thatch
scattered, he had never asked to have any place of his own; and he
had never stopped long enough in any place to see the green leaves
come where he had seen the old leaves wither, or to see the wheat
harvested where he had seen it sown. It was a good change to him to
have shelter from the wet, and a fire in the evening time, and his
share of food put on the table without the asking.

He made a good many of his songs while he was living there, so well
cared for and so quiet, The most of them were love songs, but some
were songs of repentance, and some were songs about Ireland and her
griefs, under one name or another.

Every evening the bacachs and beggars and blind men and fiddlers
would gather into the house and listen to his songs and his poems,
and his stories about the old time of the Fianna, and they kept them
in their memories that were never spoiled with books; and so they
brought his name to every wake and wedding and pattern in the whole
of Connaught. He was never so well off or made so much of as he was
at that time.

One evening of December he was singing a little song that he said he
had heard from the green plover of the mountain, about the fair-haired
boys that had left Limerick, and that were wandering and going
astray in all parts of the world. There were a good many people in
the room that night, and two or three little lads that had crept in,
and sat on the floor near the fire, and were too busy with the
roasting of a potato in the ashes or some such thing to take much
notice of him; but they remembered long afterwards when his name had
gone up, the sound of his voice, and what way he had moved his hand,
and the look of him as he sat on the edge of the bed, with his shadow
falling on the whitewashed wall behind him, and as he moved going up
as high as the thatch. And they knew then that they had looked upon a
king of the poets of the Gael, and a maker of the dreams of men.

Of a sudden his singing stopped, and his eyes grew misty as if he was
looking at some far thing.

Mary Gillis was pouring whiskey into a mug that stood on a table
beside him, and she left off pouring and said, 'Is it of leaving us
you are thinking?'

Margaret Rooney heard what she said, and did not know why she said
it, and she took the words too much in earnest and came over to him,
and there was dread in her heart that she was going to lose so
wonderful a poet and so good a comrade, and a man that was thought so
much of, and that brought so many to her house.

'You would not go away from us, my heart?' she said, catching him by
the hand.

'It is not of that I am thinking,' he said, 'but of Ireland and the
weight of grief that is on her.' And he leaned his head against his
hand, and began to sing these words, and the sound of his voice was
like the wind in a lonely place.

The old brown thorn trees break in two high over Cummen Strand
Under a bitter black wind that blows from the left hand;
Our courage breaks like an old tree in a black wind and dies,
But we have hidden in our hearts the flame out of the eyes
Of Cathleen the daughter of Hoolihan.

The winds was bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea
And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say;
Angers that are like noisy clouds have set our hearts abeat,
But we have all bent low and low and kissed the quiet feet
Of Cathleen the daughter of Hoolihan.

The yellow pool has overflowed high upon Clooth-na-Bare,
For the wet winds are blowing out of the clinging air;
Like heavy flooded waters our bodies and our blood,
But purer than a tall candle before the Holy Rood
Is Cathleen the daughter of Hoolihan.

While he was singing, his voice began to break, and tears came
rolling down his cheeks, and Margaret Rooney put down her face into
her hands and began to cry along with him. Then a blind beggar by the
fire shook his rags with a sob, and after that there was no one of
them all but cried tears down.


RED HANRAHAN'S CURSE.


One fine May morning a long time after Hanrahan had left Margaret
Rooney's house, he was walking the road near Collooney, and the sound
of the birds singing in the bushes that were white with blossom set
him singing as he went. It was to his own little place he was going,
that was no more than a cabin, but that pleased him well. For he was
tired of so many years of wandering from shelter to shelter at all
times of the year, and although he was seldom refused a welcome and a
share of what was in the house, it seemed to him sometimes that his
mind was getting stiff like his joints, and it was not so easy to him
as it used to be to make fun and sport through the night, and to set
all the boys laughing with his pleasant talk, and to coax the women
with his songs. And a while ago, he had turned into a cabin that some
poor man had left to go harvesting and had never come to again. And
when he had mended the thatch and made a bed in the corner with a few
sacks and bushes, and had swept out the floor, he was well content to
have a little place for himself, where he could go in and out as he
liked, and put his head in his hands through the length of an evening
if the fret was on him, and loneliness after the old times. One by
one the neighbours began to send their children in to get some
learning from him, and with what they brought, a few eggs or an oaten
cake or a couple of sods of turf, he made out a way of living. And if
he went for a wild day and night now and again to the Burrough, no
one would say a word, knowing him to be a poet, with wandering in his
heart.

It was from the Burrough he was coming that May morning, light-
hearted enough, and singing some new song that had come to him. But
it was not long till a hare ran across his path, and made away into
the fields, through the loose stones of the wall. And he knew it was
no good sign a hare to have crossed his path, and he remembered the
hare that had led him away to Slieve Echtge the time Mary Lavelle was
waiting for him, and how he had never known content for any length of
time since then. 'And it is likely enough they are putting some bad
thing before me now,' he said.

And after he said that he heard the sound of crying in the field
beside him, and he looked over the wall. And there he saw a young
girl sitting under a bush of white hawthorn, and crying as if her
heart would break. Her face was hidden in her hands, but her soft
hair and her white neck and the young look of her, put him in mind of
Bridget Purcell and Margaret Gillane and Maeve Connelan and Oona
Curry and Celia Driscoll, and the rest of the girls he had made songs
for and had coaxed the heart from with his flattering tongue.

She looked up, and he saw her to be a girl of the neighbours, a
farmer's daughter. 'What is on you, Nora?' he said. 'Nothing you
could take from me, Red Hanrahan.' 'If there is any sorrow on you it
is I myself should be well able to serve you,' he said then, 'for it
is I know the history of the Greeks, and I know well what sorrow is
and parting, and the hardship of the world. And if I am not able to
save you from trouble,' he said, 'there is many a one I have saved
from it with the power that is in my songs, as it was in the songs of
the poets that were before me from the beginning of the world. And it
is with the rest of the poets I myself will be sitting and talking in
some far place beyond the world, to the end of life and time,' he
said. The girl stopped her crying, and she said, 'Owen Hanrahan, I
often heard you have had sorrow and persecution, and that you know
all the troubles of the world since the time you refused your love to
the queen-woman in Slieve Echtge; and that she never left you in
quiet since. But when it is people of this earth that have harmed
you, it is yourself knows well the way to put harm on them again. And
will you do now what I ask you, Owen Hanrahan?' she said. 'I will do
that indeed,' said he.

'It is my father and my mother and my brothers,' she said, 'that are
marrying me to old Paddy Doe, because he has a farm of a hundred
acres under the mountain. And it is what you can do, Hanrahan,' she
said, 'put him into a rhyme the same way you put old Peter Kilmartin
in one the time you were young, that sorrow may be over him rising up
and lying down, that will put him thinking of Collooney churchyard
and not of marriage. And let you make no delay about it, for it is
for to-morrow they have the marriage settled, and I would sooner see
the sun rise on the day of my death than on that day.'

'I will put him into a song that will bring shame and sorrow over
him; but tell me how many years has he, for I would put them in the
song?'

'O, he has years upon years. He is as old as you yourself, Red
Hanrahan.' 'As old as myself,' said Hanrahan, and his voice was as if
broken; 'as old as myself; there are twenty years and more between
us! It is a bad day indeed for Owen Hanrahan when a young girl with
the blossom of May in her cheeks thinks him to be an old man. And my
grief!' he said, 'you have put a thorn in my heart.'

He turned from her then and went down the road till he came to a
stone, and he sat down on it, for it seemed as if all the weight of
the years had come on him in the minute. And he remembered it was not
many days ago that a woman in some house had said: 'It is not Red
Hanrahan you are now but yellow Hanrahan, for your hair is turned to
the colour of a wisp of tow.' And another woman he had asked for a
drink had not given him new milk but sour; and sometimes the girls
would be whispering and laughing with young ignorant men while he
himself was in the middle of giving out his poems or his talk. And he
thought of the stiffness of his joints when he first rose of a
morning, and the pain of his knees after making a journey, and it
seemed to him as if he was come to be a very old man, with cold in
the shoulders and speckled shins and his wind breaking and he himself
withering away. And with those thoughts there came on him a great
anger against old age and all it brought with it. And just then he
looked up and saw a great spotted eagle sailing slowly towards
Ballygawley, and he cried out: 'You, too, eagle of Ballygawley, are
old, and your wings are full of gaps, and I will put you and your
ancient comrades, the Pike of Dargan Lake and the Yew of the Steep
Place of the Strangers into my rhyme, that there may be a curse on
you for ever.'

There was a bush beside him to the left, flowering like the rest, and
a little gust of wind blew the white blossoms over his coat. 'May
blossoms,' he said, gathering them up in the hollow of his hand, 'you
never know age because you die away in your beauty, and I will put
you into my rhyme and give you my blessing.'

He rose up then and plucked a little branch from the bush, and
carried it in his hand. But it is old and broken he looked going home
that day with the stoop in his shoulders and the darkness in his
face.

When he got to his cabin there was no one there, and he went and lay
down on the bed for a while as he was used to do when he wanted to
make a poem or a praise or a curse. And it was not long he was in
making it this time, for the power of the curse-making bards was upon
him. And when he had made it he searched his mind how he could send
it out over the whole countryside.

Some of the scholars began coming in then, to see if there would be
any school that day, and Hanrahan rose up and sat on the bench by the
hearth, and they all stood around him.

They thought he would bring out the Virgil or the Mass book or the
primer, but instead of that he held up the little branch of hawthorn
he had in his hand yet. 'Children,' he said, 'this is a new lesson I
have for you to-day.

'You yourselves and the beautiful people of the world are like this
blossom, and old age is the wind that comes and blows the blossom
away. And I have made a curse upon old age and upon the old men, and
listen now while I give it out to you.' And this is what he said--

The poet, Owen Hanrahan, under a bush of may
Calls down a curse on his own head because it withers grey;
Then on the speckled eagle cock of Ballygawley Hill,
Because it is the oldest thing that knows of cark and ill;
And on the yew that has been green from the times out of mind
By the Steep Place of the Strangers and the Gap of the Wind;
And on the great grey pike that broods in Castle Dargan Lake
Having in his long body a many a hook and ache;
Then curses he old Paddy Bruen of the Well of Bride
Because no hair is on his head and drowsiness inside.
Then Paddy's neighbour, Peter Hart, and Michael Gill, his friend,
Because their wandering histories are never at an end.
And then old Shemus Cullinan, shepherd of the Green Lands
Because he holds two crutches between his crooked hands;
Then calls a curse from the dark North upon old Paddy Doe,
Who plans to lay his withering head upon a breast of snow,
Who plans to wreck a singing voice and break a merry heart,
He bids a curse hang over him till breath and body part;
But he calls down a blessing on the blossom of the may,
Because it comes in beauty, and in beauty blows away.

He said it over to the children verse by verse till all of them could
say a part of it, and some that were the quickest could say the whole
of it.

'That will do for to-day,' he said then. 'And what you have to do now
is to go out and sing that song for a while, to the tune of the Green
Bunch of Rushes, to everyone you meet, and to the old men
themselves.'

'I will do that,' said one of the little lads; 'I know old Paddy Doe
well. Last Saint John's Eve we dropped a mouse down his chimney, but
this is better than a mouse.'

'I will go into the town of Sligo and sing it in the street,' said
another of the boys. 'Do that,' said Hanrahan, 'and go into the
Burrough and tell it to Margaret Rooney and Mary Gillis, and bid them
sing to it, and to make the beggars and the bacachs sing it wherever
they go.' The children ran out then, full of pride and of mischief,
calling out the song as they ran, and Hanrahan knew there was no
danger it would not be heard.

He was sitting outside the door the next morning, looking at his
scholars as they came by in twos and threes. They were nearly all
come, and he was considering the place of the sun in the heavens to
know whether it was time to begin, when he heard a sound that was
like the buzzing of a swarm of bees in the air, or the rushing of a
hidden river in time of flood. Then he saw a crowd coming up to the
cabin from the road, and he took notice that all the crowd was made
up of old men, and that the leaders of it were Paddy Bruen, Michael
Gill and Paddy Doe, and there was not one in the crowd but had in his
hand an ash stick or a blackthorn. As soon as they caught sight of
him, the sticks began to wave hither and thither like branches in a
storm, and the old feet to run.

He waited no longer, but made off up the hill behind the cabin till
he was out of their sight.

After a while he came back round the hill, where he was hidden by the
furze growing along a ditch. And when he came in sight of his cabin
he saw that all the old men had gathered around it, and one of them
was just at that time thrusting a rake with a wisp of lighted straw
on it into the thatch.

'My grief,' he said, 'I have set Old Age and Time and Weariness and
Sickness against me, and I must go wandering again. And, O Blessed
Queen of Heaven,' he said, 'protect me from the Eagle of Ballygawley,
the Yew Tree of the Steep Place of the Strangers, the Pike of Castle
Dargan Lake, and from the lighted wisps of their kindred, the Old
Men!'


HANRAHAN'S VISION.

It was in the month of June Hanrahan was on the road near Sligo, but
he did not go into the town, but turned towards Beinn Bulben; for
there were thoughts of the old times coming upon him, and he had no
mind to meet with common men. And as he walked he was singing to
himself a song that had come to him one time in his dreams:

O Death's old bony finger
Will never find us there
In the high hollow townland
Where love's to give and to spare;
Where boughs have fruit and blossom
At all times of the year;
Where rivers are running over
With red beer and brown beer.
An old man plays the bagpipes
In a gold and silver wood;
Queens, their eyes blue like the ice,
Are dancing in a crowd.

The little fox he murmured,
'O what of the world's bane?'
The sun was laughing sweetly,
The moon plucked at my rein;
But the little red fox murmured,
'O do not pluck at his rein,
He is riding to the townland
That is the world's bane.'

When their hearts are so high
That they would come to blows,
They unhook their heavy swords
From golden and silver boughs:
But all that are killed in battle
Awaken to life again:
It is lucky that their story
Is not known among men.
For O, the strong farmers
That would let the spade lie,
Their hearts would be like a cup
That somebody had drunk dry.

Michael will unhook his trumpet
From a bough overhead,
And blow a little noise
When the supper has been spread.
Gabriel will come from the water
With a fish tail, and talk
Of wonders that have happened
On wet roads where men walk,
And lift up an old horn
Of hammered silver, and drink
Till he has fallen asleep
Upon the starry brink.

Hanrahan had begun to climb the mountain then, and he gave over
singing, for it was a long climb for him, and every now and again he
had to sit down and to rest for a while. And one time he was resting
he took notice of a wild briar bush, with blossoms on it, that was
growing beside a rath, and it brought to mind the wild roses he used
to bring to Mary Lavelle, and to no woman after her. And he tore off
a little branch of the bush, that had buds on it and open blossoms,
and he went on with his song:

The little fox he murmured,
'O what of the world's bane?'
The sun was laughing sweetly,
The moon plucked at my rein;
But the little red fox murmured,
'O do not pluck at his rein,
He is riding to the townland
That is the world's bane.'

And he went on climbing the hill, and left the rath, and there came
to his mind some of the old poems that told of lovers, good and bad,
and of some that were awakened from the sleep of the grave itself by
the strength of one another's love, and brought away to a life in
some shadowy place, where they are waiting for the judgment and
banished from the face of God.

And at last, at the fall of day, he came to the Steep Gap of the
Strangers, and there he laid himself down along a ridge of rock, and
looked into the valley, that was full of grey mist spreading from
mountain to mountain.

And it seemed to him as he looked that the mist changed to shapes of
shadowy men and women, and his heart began to beat with the fear and
the joy of the sight. And his hands, that were always restless, began
to pluck off the leaves of the roses on the little branch, and he
watched them as they went floating down into the valley in a little
fluttering troop.

Suddenly he heard a faint music, a music that had more laughter in it
and more crying than all the music of this world. And his heart rose
when he heard that, and he began to laugh out loud, for he knew that
music was made by some who had a beauty and a greatness beyond the
people of this world. And it seemed to him that the little soft rose
leaves as they went fluttering down into the valley began to change
their shape till they looked like a troop of men and women far off in
the mist, with the colour of the roses on them. And then that colour
changed to many colours, and what he saw was a long line of tall
beautiful young men, and of queen-women, that were not going from him
but coming towards him and past him, and their faces were full of
tenderness for all their proud looks, and were very pale and worn, as
if they were seeking and ever seeking for high sorrowful things. And
shadowy arms were stretched out of the mist as if to take hold of
them, but could not touch them, for the quiet that was about them
could not be broken. And before them and beyond them, but at a
distance as if in reverence, there were other shapes, sinking and
rising and coming and going, and Hanrahan knew them by their whirling
flight to be the Sidhe, the ancient defeated gods; and the shadowy
arms did not rise to take hold of them, for they were of those that
can neither sin nor obey. And they all lessened then in the distance,
and they seemed to be going towards the white door that is in the
side of the mountain.

The mist spread out before him now like a deserted sea washing the
mountains with long grey waves, but while he was looking at it, it
began to fill again with a flowing broken witless life that was a
part of itself, and arms and pale heads covered with tossing hair
appeared in the greyness. It rose higher and higher till it was level
with the edge of the steep rock, and then the shapes grew to be
solid, and a new procession half lost in mist passed very slowly with
uneven steps, and in the midst of each shadow there was something
shining in the starlight. They came nearer and nearer, and Hanrahan
saw that they also were lovers, and that they had heart-shaped
mirrors instead of hearts, and they were looking and ever looking on
their own faces in one another's mirrors. They passed on, sinking
downward as they passed, and other shapes rose in their place, and
these did not keep side by side, but followed after one another,
holding out wild beckoning arms, and he saw that those who were
followed were women, and as to their heads they were beyond all
beauty, but as to their bodies they were but shadows without life,
and their long hair was moving and trembling about them, as if it
lived with some terrible life of its own. And then the mist rose of a
sudden and hid them, and then a light gust of wind blew them away
towards the north-east, and covered Hanrahan at the same time with a
white wing of cloud.

He stood up trembling and was going to turn away from the valley,
when he saw two dark and half-hidden forms standing as if in the air
just beyond the rock, and one of them that had the sorrowful eyes of
a beggar said to him in a woman's voice, 'Speak to me, for no one in
this world or any other world has spoken to me for seven hundred
years.'

'Tell me who are those that have passed by,' said Hanrahan.

'Those that passed first,' the woman said, 'are the lovers that had
the greatest name in the old times, Blanad and Deirdre and Grania and
their dear comrades, and a great many that are not so well known but
are as well loved. And because it was not only the blossom of youth
they were looking for in one another, but the beauty that is as
lasting as the night and the stars, the night and the stars hold them
for ever from the warring and the perishing, in spite of the wars and
the bitterness their love brought into the world. And those that came
next,' she said, 'and that still breathe the sweet air and have the
mirrors in their hearts, are not put in songs by the poets, because
they sought only to triumph one over the other, and so to prove their
strength and beauty, and out of this they made a kind of love. And as
to the women with shadow-bodies, they desired neither to triumph nor
to love but only to be loved, and there is no blood in their hearts
or in their bodies until it flows through them from a kiss, and their
life is but for a moment. All these are unhappy, but I am the
unhappiest of all, for I am Dervadilla, and this is Dermot, and it
was our sin brought the Norman into Ireland. And the curses of all
the generations are upon us, and none are punished as we are
punished. It was but the blossom of the man and of the woman we loved
in one another, the dying beauty of the dust and not the everlasting
beauty. When we died there was no lasting unbreakable quiet about us,
and the bitterness of the battles we brought into Ireland turned to
our own punishment. We go wandering together for ever, but Dermot
that was my lover sees me always as a body that has been a long time
in the ground, and I know that is the way he sees me. Ask me more,
ask me more, for all the years have left their wisdom in my heart,
and no one has listened to me for seven hundred years.'

A great terror had fallen upon Hanrahan, and lifting his arms above
his head he screamed out loud three times, and the cattle in the
valley lifted their heads and lowed, and the birds in the wood at the
edge of the mountain awaked out of their sleep and fluttered through
the trembling leaves. But a little below the edge of the rock, the
troop of rose leaves still fluttered in the air, for the gateway of
Eternity had opened and shut again in one beat of the heart.


THE DEATH OF HANRAHAN.


Hanrahan, that was never long in one place, was back again among the
villages that are at the foot of Slieve Echtge, Illeton and Scalp and
Ballylee, stopping sometimes in one house and sometimes in another,
and finding a welcome in every place for the sake of the old times
and of his poetry and his learning. There was some silver and some
copper money in the little leather bag under his coat, but it was
seldom he needed to take anything from it, for it was little he used,
and there was not one of the people that would have taken payment
from him. His hand had grown heavy on the blackthorn he leaned on,
and his cheeks were hollow and worn, but so far as food went,
potatoes and milk and a bit of oaten cake, he had what he wanted of
it; and it is not on the edge of so wild and boggy a place as Echtge
a mug of spirits would be wanting, with the taste of the turf smoke
on it. He would wander about the big wood at Kinadife, or he would
sit through many hours of the day among the rushes about Lake
Belshragh, listening to the streams from the hills, or watching the
shadows in the brown bog pools; sitting so quiet as not to startle
the deer that came down from the heather to the grass and the tilled
fields at the fall of night. As the days went by it seemed as if he
was beginning to belong to some world out of sight and misty, that
has for its mearing the colours that are beyond all other colours and
the silences that are beyond all silences of this world. And
sometimes he would hear coming and going in the wood music that when
it stopped went from his memory like a dream; and once in the
stillness of midday he heard a sound like the clashing of many
swords, that went on for long time without any break. And at the fall
of night and at moonrise the lake would grow to be like a gateway of
silver and shining stones, and there would come from its silence the
faint sound of keening and of frightened laughter broken by the wind,
and many pale beckoning hands.

He was sitting looking into the water one evening in harvest time,
thinking of all the secrets that were shut into the lakes and the
mountains, when he heard a cry coming from the south, very faint at
first, but getting louder and clearer as the shadow of the rushes
grew longer, till he could hear the words, 'I am beautiful, I am
beautiful; the birds in the air, the moths under the leaves, the
flies over the water look at me, for they never saw any one so
beautiful as myself. I am young; I am young: look upon me, mountains;
look upon me, perishing woods, for my body will shine like the white
waters when you have been hurried away. You and the whole race of
men, and the race of the beasts and the race of the fish and the
winged race are dropping like a candle that is nearly burned out, but
I laugh out because I am in my youth.' The voice would break off from
time to time, as if tired, and then it would begin again, calling out
always the same words, 'I am beautiful, I am beautiful.' Presently
the bushes at the edge of the little lake trembled for a moment, and
a very old woman forced her way among them, and passed by Hanrahan,
walking with very slow steps. Her face was of the colour of earth,
and more wrinkled than the face of any old hag that was ever seen,
and her grey hair was hanging in wisps, and the rags she was wearing
did not hide her dark skin that was roughened by all weathers. She
passed by him with her eyes wide open, and her head high, and her
arms hanging straight beside her, and she went into the shadow of the
hills towards the west.

A sort of dread came over Hanrahan when he saw her, for he knew her
to be one Winny Byrne, that went begging from place to place crying
always the same cry, and he had often heard that she had once such
wisdom that all the women of the neighbours used to go looking for
advice from her, and that she had a voice so beautiful that men and
women would come from every part to hear her sing at a wake or a
wedding; and that the Others, the great Sidhe, had stolen her wits
one Samhain night many years ago, when she had fallen asleep on the
edge of a rath, and had seen in her dreams the servants of Echtge of
the hills.

And as she vanished away up the hillside, it seemed as if her cry, 'I
am beautiful, I am beautiful,' was coming from among the stars in the
heavens.

There was a cold wind creeping among the rushes, and Hanrahan began
to shiver, and he rose up to go to some house where there would be a
fire on the hearth. But instead of turning down the hill as he was
used, he went on up the hill, along the little track that was maybe a
road and maybe the dry bed of a stream. It was the same way Winny had
gone, and it led to the little cabin where she stopped when she
stopped in any place at all. He walked very slowly up the hill as if
he had a great load on his back, and at last he saw a light a little
to the left, and he thought it likely it was from Winny's house it
was shining, and he turned from the path to go to it. But clouds had
come over the sky, and he could not well see his way, and after he
had gone a few steps his foot slipped and he fell into a bog drain,
and though he dragged himself out of it, holding on to the roots of
the heather, the fall had given him a great shake, and he felt better
fit to lie down than to go travelling. But he had always great
courage, and he made his way on, step by step, till at last he came
to Winny's cabin, that had no window, but the light was shining from
the door. He thought to go into it and to rest for a while, but when
he came to the door he did not see Winny inside it, but what he saw
was four old grey-haired women playing cards, but Winny herself was
not among them. Hanrahan sat down on a heap of turf beside the door,
for he was tired out and out, and had no wish for talking or for
card-playing, and his bones and his joints aching the way they were.
He could hear the four women talking as they played, and calling out
their hands. And it seemed to him that they were saying, like the
strange man in the barn long ago: 'Spades and Diamonds, Courage and
Power. Clubs and Hearts, Knowledge and Pleasure.' And he went on
saying those words over and over to himself; and whether or not he
was in his dreams, the pain that was in his shoulder never left him.
And after a while the four women in the cabin began to quarrel, and
each one to say the other had not played fair, and their voices grew
from loud to louder, and their screams and their curses, till at last
the whole air was filled with the noise of them around and above the
house, and Hanrahan, hearing it between sleep and waking, said: 'That
is the sound of the fighting between the friends and the ill-wishers
of a man that is near his death. And I wonder,' he said, 'who is the
man in this lonely place that is near his death.'

It seemed as if he had been asleep a long time, and he opened his
eyes, and the face he saw over him was the old wrinkled face of Winny
of the Cross Road. She was looking hard at him, as if to make sure he
was not dead, and she wiped away the blood that had grown dry on his
face with a wet cloth, and after a while she partly helped him and
partly lifted him into the cabin, and laid him down on what served
her for a bed. She gave him a couple of potatoes from a pot on the
fire, and, what served him better, a mug of spring water. He slept a
little now and again, and sometimes he heard her singing to herself
as she moved about the house, and so the night wore away. When the
sky began to brighten with the dawn he felt for the bag; where his
little store of money was, and held it out to her, and she took out a
bit of copper and a bit of silver money, but she let it drop again as
if it was nothing to her, maybe because it was not money she was used
to beg for, but food and rags; or maybe because the rising of the
dawn was filling her with pride and a new belief in her own great
beauty. She went out and cut a few armfuls of heather, and brought it
in and heaped it over Hanrahan, saying something about the cold of
the morning, and while she did that he took notice of the wrinkles in
her face, and the greyness of her hair, and the broken teeth that
were black and full of gaps. And when he was well covered with the
heather she went out of the door and away down the side of the
mountain, and he could hear her cry, 'I am beautiful, I am
beautiful,' getting less and less as she went, till at last it died
away altogether.

Hanrahan lay there through the length of the day, in his pains and
his weakness, and when the shadows of the evening were falling he
heard her voice again coming up the hillside, and she came in and
boiled the potatoes and shared them with him the same way as before.
And one day after another passed like that, and the weight of his
flesh was heavy about him. But little by little as he grew weaker he
knew there were some greater than himself in the room with him, and
that the house began to be filled with them; and it seemed to him
they had all power in their hands, and that they might with one touch
of the hand break down the wall the hardness of pain had built about
him, and take him into their own world. And sometimes he could hear
voices, very faint and joyful, crying from the rafters or out of the
flame on the hearth, and other times the whole house was filled with
music that went through it like a wind. And after a while his
weakness left no place for pain, and there grew up about him a great
silence like the silence in the heart of a lake, and there came
through it like the flame of a rushlight the faint joyful voices ever
and always.

One morning he heard music somewhere outside the door, and as the day
passed it grew louder and louder until it drowned the faint joyful
voices, and even Winny's cry upon the hillside at the fall of
evening. About midnight and in a moment, the walls seemed to melt
away and to leave his bed floating on a pale misty light that shone
on every side as far as the eye could see; and after the first
blinding of his eyes he saw that it was full of great shadowy figures
rushing here and there.

At the same time the music came very clearly to him, and he knew that
it was but the continual clashing of swords.

'I am after my death,' he said, 'and in the very heart of the music
of Heaven. O Cheruhim and Seraphim, receive my soul!'

At his cry the light where it was nearest to him filled with sparks
of yet brighter light, and he saw that these were the points of
swords turned towards his heart; and then a sudden flame, bright and
burning like God's love or God's hate, swept over the light and went
out and he was in darkness. At first he could see nothing, for all
was as dark as if there was black bog earth about him, but all of a
sudden the fire blazed up as if a wisp of straw had been thrown upon
it. And as he looked at it, the light was shining on the big pot that
was hanging from a hook, and on the flat stone where Winny used to
bake a cake now and again, and on the long rusty knife she used to be
cutting the roots of the heather with, and on the long blackthorn
stick he had brought into the house himself. And when he saw those
four things, some memory came into Hanrahan's mind, and strength came
back to him, and he rose sitting up in the bed, and he said very loud
and clear: 'The Cauldron, the Stone, the Sword, the Spear. What are
they? Who do they belong to? And I have asked the question this
time,' he said.

And then he fell back again, weak, and the breath going from him.

Winny Byrne, that had been tending the fire, came over then, having
her eyes fixed on the bed; and the faint laughing voices began crying
out again, and a pale light, grey like a wave, came creeping over the
room, and he did not know from what secret world it came. He saw
Winny's withered face and her withered arms that were grey like
crumbled earth, and weak as he was he shrank back farther towards the
wall. And then there came out of the mud-stiffened rags arms as white
and as shadowy as the foam on a river, and they were put about his
body, and a voice that he could hear well but that seemed to come
from a long way off said to him in a whisper: 'You will go looking
for me no more upon the breasts of women.'

'Who are you?' he said then.

'I am one of the lasting people, of the lasting unwearied Voices,
that make my dwelling in the broken and the dying, and those that
have lost their wits; and I came looking for you, and you are mine
until the whole world is burned out like a candle that is spent. And
look up now,' she said, 'for the wisps that are for our wedding are
lighted.'

He saw then that the house was crowded with pale shadowy hands, and
that every hand was holding what was sometimes like a wisp lighted
for a marriage, and sometimes like a tall white candle for the dead.

When the sun rose on the morning of the morrow Winny of the Cross
Roads rose up from where she was sitting beside the body, and began
her begging from townland to townland, singing the same song as she
walked, 'I am beautiful, I am beautiful. The birds in the air, the
moths under the leaves, the flies over the water look at me. Look at
me, perishing woods, for my body will be shining like the lake water
after you have been hurried away. You and the old race of men, and
the race of the beasts, and the race of the fish, and the winged
race, are wearing away like a candle that has been burned out. But I
laugh out loud, because I am in my youth.'

She did not come back that night or any night to the cabin, and it
was not till the end of two days that the turf cutters going to the
bog found the body of Red Owen Hanrahan, and gathered men to wake him
and women to keen him, and gave him a burying worthy of so great a
poet.




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