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The Crucifixion Of The Outcast

A MAN, with thin brown hair and a pale
face, half ran, half walked, along the road
that wound from the south to the Town
of the Shelly River. Many called him Cum-
Hal, the son of Cormac, and many called
him the Swift, Wild Horse; and he was
a glee man, and he wore a short parti-
coloured doublet, and had pointed shoes,
and a bulging wallet. Also he was of the
blood of the Ernaans, and his birth-place
was the ~ield of Gold; but his eating and
sleeping places were the four provinces of
Eri, and his abiding place was not upon
the ridge of the earth. His eyes strayed
from the Abbey tower of the White Friars
and the town battlements to a row of
crosses which stood out against the sky
upon a hill a little to the eastward of the
town, and he clenched his fist, and shook
it at the crosses. He knew they were
not empty, for the birds were fluttering
36
about them; and he thought how, as like
as not, just such another vagabond as
himself was hanged on one of them; and
he muttered; ' If it were hanging or bow-
stringing, or stoning or beheading, it would
be bad enough. But to have the birds
pecking your eyes and the wolves eating
your feet ! I would that the red wind
of the Druids had withered in his cradle
the soldier of Dathi, who brought the
tree of death out of barbarous lands, or
that the lightning, when it smote Dathi
at the foot of the mountain, had smitten
him also, or that his grave had been dug
by the green-haired and green-toothed
merrows deep at the roots of the deep
sea.'
While he spoke, he shivered from head
to foot, and the sweat came out upon
his face, and he knew not why, for
he had looked upon many crosses. He
passed over two hills and under the battle-
ment Ed gate, and then round by a left-


27
was studded with great nails, and whenhe knocked at it, he roused the lay brother
who was the porter, and of him he asked
a place in the guest-house. Then the lay
brother took a glowing turf on a shovel,
and led the way to a big and naked out-
house strewn with very dirty rushes; and
t lighted a rush-candle fixed between two
of the stones of the wall, and set the glow-
ing turf upon the hearth and gave him
two unlighted sods and a wisp of straw,
and showed him a blanket hanging from a
nail, and a shelf with a loaf of bread and
a jug of water, and a tub in a far
corner. Then the lay brother left him
and went back to his place by the door.

And Cumhal the son of Cormac began
to blow upon the glowing turf, that he
might light the two sods and the wisp
of straw; but his blowing profited him
nothing, for the sods and the straw were
damp. So he took off his pointed shoes,
and drew the tub out of the corner with
the thought of washing the dust of the
highway from his feet; but the water was
so dirty that he could not see the bottom
He was very hungry, for he had not eaten
all that day; so he did not waste much
anger upon the tub, but took up the black
Ioaf, and bit into it, and then spat out the
bite, for the bread was hard and mouldy.
Still he did not give way to his wrath, for
he had not drunken these many hours;
having a hope of heath beer or wine at his
day's end, he had left the brooks untasted,
to make his supper the more delightful.
Now he put the jug to his lips, but he
flung it from him straight way, for the
water was bitter and ill-smelling. Then
he gave the jug a kick, so that it broke
against the opposite wall, and he took
down the blanket to wrap it about him for
the night. But no sooner did he touch it
than it was alive with skipping fleas. At
this, beside himself with anger, he rushed
to the door of the guest-house, but the lay
brother, being well accustomed to such
outcries, had locked it on the outside; so

Cumhal emptied the tub and began to
beat the door with it, till the lay brother
carne to the door, and asked what ailed
him, and why he woke him out of sleep.
' What ails me !' shouted Cumhal, ' are
not the sods as wet as the sands of
the Three Headlands ? and are not the
fleas in the blanket as many as the waves
of the sea and as lively ? and is not the
bread as hard as the heart of a lay brother
who has forgotten God ? and is not the
water in the jug as bitter and as ill-smelling
as his soul ? and is not the foot-water the
colour that shall be upon him when he has
been charred in the Undying Fires ? ' The
lay brother saw that the lock was fast, and
went back to his niche, for he was too
sleepy to talk with comfort. And Cum-
Hal went on beating at the door, and
presently he heard the lay brother's foot
once more, and cried out at him, ~ O
cowardly and tyrannous race of friars, per-
secutors of the bard and the glee man, haters
of life and joy ! O race that does not draw
the sword and tell the truth ! O race
that melts the bones of the people with
cowardice and with deceit ! '
' Gleeman,' said the lay brother, ' I also
make rhymes; I make many while I sit
in my niche by the door, and I sorrow to
hear the bards railing upon the friars.
Brother, I would sleep, and therefore I
make known to you that it is the head of
the monastery, our gracious Coarb, who
orders all things concerning the lodging of
travellers. '
' You may sleep,' said Cumhal, ~ I will
sing a bard's curse on the Coarb.' And
he set the tub upside down under th~
window, and stood upon it, and began to
sing in a very loud voice. The singing
awoke the Coarb, so that he sat up in bed
and blew a silver whistle until the lay
brother came to him. ' I cannot get a
wink of sleep with that noise,' said the
Coarb. ' What is happening ? '
' It is a glee man,' said the lay brother,
' who complains of the sods, of the bread,
of the water in the jug, of the foot-water,
and of the blanket. And now he is singing
a bard's curse upon you, O brother Coarb,
and upon your father and your mother,
and your grandfather and your grand-
mother, and upon all your relations.'
' Is he cursing in rhyme ? '
' He is cursing in rhyme, and with
two assonances in every line of his
curse.'
The Coarb pulled his night-cap off and
crumpled it in his hands, and the circular
brown patch of hair in the middle of his
bald head looked like an island in the
midst of a pond, for in Connaught they
had not yet abandoned the ancient ton sure
for the style then coming into use. ' If we
do not somewhat,' he said, ' he will teach

his curses to the children in the street, and
the girls spinning at the doors, and to the
robbers on the mountain of Gulben.'
' Shall I go then,' said the other, 'and
give him dry sods, a fresh loaf, clean water
in a jug, clean foot-water, and a new
blanket, and make him swear by the
blessed St. Benign us, and by the sun and
moon, that no bond be lacking, not to tell
his rhymes to the children in the street,
and the girls spinning at the doors, and
the robbers on the mountain of Gulben ? '
' Neither our blessed Patron nor the sun
and the moon would avail at all,' said the
Coarb: 'for to-morrow or the next day
the mood to curse would come upon him,
or a pride in those rhymes would move
him, and he would teach his lines to the
children, and the girls, and the robbers.
Or else he would tell another of his craft
how he fared in the guest-house, and he
in his turn would begin. to curse, and my
name would wither. For learn there is no
steadfastness of purpose upon the roads,
but only under roofs, and between four
walls. Therefore I bid you go and awaken
Brother Kevin, Brother Dove, Brother
Little Wolf, Brother Bald Patrick, Brother
Bald Brandon, Brother James and Brother
Peter. And they shall take the man, and
43

bind him with ropes, and dip him in the
river that he may cease to sing. And in
the morning, lest this but make him curse
the louder, we will crucify him.'
' The crosses are all full,' said the lay
brother.
' Then we must make another cross. If
we do not make an end of him another
will, for who can eat and sleep in peace
while men like him are going about the
world ? Ill should we stand before blessed
St. Benign us, and sour would be his face
when he comes to judge us at the Last
Day, were we to spare an enemy of his
when we had him under our thumb !
Brother, the bards and the glee men are
an evil race, ever cursing and ever stirring
up the people, and immoral and im-
moderate in all things, and heathen in
their hearts, always longing after the Son
of Lir, and Angus, and Bridget, and the
Dagda, and Dana the Mother, and all the
false gods of the old days; always making
poems in praise of those kings and queens
44
of the demons, Finvaragh of the Hill in
the Plain, and Red Aodh of the Hill of
the Shee, and Cleena of the Wave, and
Eiveen of the Grey Rock, and him they
call Don of the Vats of the Sea; and
railing against God and Christ and the
blessed Saints.' While he was speaking
he crossed himself, and when he had
finished he drew the nightcap over his
ears, to shut out the noise, and closed
his eyes, and composed himself to
sleep.
The lay brother found Brother Kevin,
Brother Dove, Brother Little Wolf, Brother
Bald Patrick, Brother Bald Brandon,
Brother James and Brother Peter sitting
up in bed, and he made them get up.
Then they bound Cumhal, and they
dragged him to the river, and they dipped
him in it at the place which was afterwards
called Buckley's Ford.
' Gleeman,' said the lay brother, as they
led him back to the guest-house, ' why do
you ever use the wit which God has given
45
you to make blasphemous and immoral tales
and verses ? For such is the way of your
craft. I have, indeed, many such tales and
verses well nigh by rote, and so I know
that I speak true ! And why do you praise
with rhyme those demons, Finvaragh, Red
Aodh, Cleena, Eiveen and Don? 1, too,
am a man of great wit and learning, but
I ever glo.rify our gracious Coarb, and
Benignus our Patron, and the princes of
the province. My soul is decent and
orderly, but yours is like the wind among
the salley gardens. I said what I could for
you, being also a man of many thoughts,
but who could help such a one as you ? '
My soul, friend,' answered the glee man,

' is indeed like the wind, and it blows me
to and fro, and up and down, a lid puts
many things into my mind and out of my
mind, and therefore am I called the Swift,
Wild Horse.' And he spoke no more
that night, for his teeth were chattering
with the cold.
The Coarb and the friars came to him
46
in the morning, and bade him get ready to
be crucified, and led him out of the guest-
house. And while he still stood upon the
step a flock of great grass-barnacles passed
high above him with clanking cries. He
lifted his arms to them and said, ~ O great
grass-barnacles, tarry a little, and may hap
my soul will travel with you to the waste
places of the shore and to the ungovern- 1
able sea ! ' At the gate a crowd of beggars
gathered about them, being come there to
beg from any traveller or pilgrim who
might have spent the night in the guest-
house. The Coarb and the friars led
the glee man to a place in the woods at
some distance, where many straight young
trees were growing, and they made him
cut one down and fashion it to the right
length, while the beggars stood round them
in a ring, talking and gesticulating. The
Coarb then bade him cut off another and
shorter piece of wood, and nail it upon
the first. So there was his cross for him;
and they put it upon his shoulder, for
47

his crucifixion was to be on the top of the
hill where the others were. A half-mile
on the way he asked them to stop and
see him juggle for them: for he knew,
he said, all the tricks of Angus the
Subtle-Hearted. The old friars were for
pressing on, but the young friars would
see him: so he did many wonders for
them, even to the drawing of live frogs out
of his ears. But after a while they turned
on him, and said his tricks were dull and
a shade unholy, and set the cross on his
shoulders again. Another half-mile on the
way, and he asked them to stop and hear
him jest for them, for he knew, he said, all
the jests of Conan the Bald, upon whose
back a sheep's wool grew. And the young
friars, when they had heard his merry tales,
again bade him take up his cross, for it
i ll became them to listen to such follies.
Another half-mile on the way, he asked
them to stop and hear him sing the story
of White-Breasted Deirdre, and how she
endured many sorrows, and how the sons
of Usna died to serve her. And the young
friars were mad to hear him, but when he
had ended, they grew angry, and beat him
for waking forgotten longings in their
hearts. So they set the cross upon his
back, and hurried him to the hill.
When he was come to the top, they took
the cross from him, and began to dig a hole
to stand it in, while the beggars gathered
round, and talked among themselves. ~ I
ask a favour before I die,' says Cum Hal.
' We will grant you no more delays,' says
the Coarb.
' I ask no more delays, for I have drawn
the sword, and told the truth, and lived my
vision, and am content.'
' Would you then confess ? '
' By sun and moon, not l; I ask but to
6e let eat the food I carry in my wallet.
I carry food in my wallet whenever I go
upon a journey, but I do not taste of it
unless I am well-nigh starved. I have
not eaten now these two days.'
'You may eat, then,' says the Coarb,

Iq E
and he turned to help the friars dig the
hole.
The glee man took a loaf and some strips
of cold fried bacon out of his wallet and laid
them upon the ground. ' I will give a tithe
to the poor,' says he, and he cut a tenth
part from the loaf and the bacon. ' Who
among you is the poorest ?' And there-
upon was a great clam our, for the beggars
began the history of their sorrows and their
poverty, and their yellow faces swayed like
the Shelly ~iver when the floods have filled
it with water from the bogs.
He listened for a little, and, says he,
' I am myself the poorest, for I have
travel led the bare road, and by the glitter-

ing footsteps of the sea; and the tattered
doublet of particoloured cloth upon my
back and the torn pointed shoes upon my
feet have ever irked me, because of the
towered city full of noble raiment *hich
was in my heart. And I have been the more
alone upon the roads and by the sea, be-
cause I heard in my heart the rustling of
the rose-bordered dress of her who is more
subtle than Angus, the Subtle-Hearted,
and more full of the beauty of laughter than
Conan the Bald, and more full of the wisdom
of tears than White-Breasted Deirdre, and
more lovely than a bursting dawn to them
that are lost in the darkness. Therefore, I l
award the tithe to myself; but yet, because
I am done with all things, I give it unto you.'
So he flung the bread and the strips of
bacon among the beggars, and they fought
with many cries until the last scrap was
eaten. But meanwhile the friars nailed the
glee man to his cross, and set it upright in
the hole, and shovel led the earth in at the
foot, and trampled it level and hard. So
then they went away, but the beggars stared
on, sitting round the cross. But when the
sun was sinking, they also got up to go, for
the air was getting chilly. And as soon as
they had gone a little way, the wolves, who
had been showing themselves on the edge
of a neighbouring coppice, came nearer,
and the birds wheeled closer and closer.

5 1

' Stay, outcasts, yet a little while,' the cruci-
fied one called in a weak voice to the beg-
gars, 'and keep the beasts and the birds
from me.' But the beggars were angry
because he had called them outcasts, so
they threw stones and mud at him, and
went their w;~y. Then the wolves gathered
at the foot of the cross, and the birds flew
lower and lower. And presently the birds
lighted all at once upon his head and arms
and shoulders, and began to peck at him,
and the wolves began to eat his feet. ' Out-
casts,' he moaned, ' have you also turned
against the outcast ? '

William Butler Yeats


Non-Fiction