Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

A Teller of Tales

Many of the tales in this book were told me by one Paddy Flynn, a
little bright-eyed old man, who lived in a leaky and one-roomed cabin
in the village of Ballisodare, which is, he was wont to say, "the most
gentle"--whereby he meant faery--"place in the whole of County Sligo."
Others hold it, however, but second to Drumcliff and Drumahair. The
first time I saw him he was cooking mushrooms for himself; the next
time he was asleep under a hedge, smiling in his sleep. He was indeed
always cheerful, though I thought I could see in his eyes (swift as the
eyes of a rabbit, when they peered out of their wrinkled holes) a
melancholy which was well-nigh a portion of their joy; the visionary
melancholy of purely instinctive natures and of all animals.

And yet there was much in his life to depress him, for in the triple
solitude of age, eccentricity, and deafness, he went about much
pestered by children. It was for this very reason perhaps that he ever
recommended mirth and hopefulness. He was fond, for instance, of
telling how Collumcille cheered up his mother. "How are you to-day,
mother?" said the saint. "Worse," replied the mother. "May you be worse
to-morrow," said the saint. The next day Collumcille came again, and
exactly the same conversation took place, but the third day the mother
said, "Better, thank God." And the saint replied, "May you be better
to-morrow." He was fond too of telling how the Judge smiles at the last
day alike when he rewards the good and condemns the lost to unceasing
flames. He had many strange sights to keep him cheerful or to make him
sad. I asked him had he ever seen the faeries, and got the reply, "Am I
not annoyed with them?" I asked too if he had ever seen the banshee. "I
have seen it," he said, "down there by the water, batting the river
with its hands."

I have copied this account of Paddy Flynn, with a few verbal
alterations, from a note-book which I almost filled with his tales and
sayings, shortly after seeing him. I look now at the note-book
regretfully, for the blank pages at the end will never be filled up.
Paddy Flynn is dead; a friend of mine gave him a large bottle of
whiskey, and though a sober man at most times, the sight of so much
liquor filled him with a great enthusiasm, and he lived upon it for
some days and then died. His body, worn out with old age and hard
times, could not bear the drink as in his young days. He was a great
teller of tales, and unlike our common romancers, knew how to empty
heaven, hell, and purgatory, faeryland and earth, to people his
stories. He did not live in a shrunken world, but knew of no less ample
circumstance than did Homer himself. Perhaps the Gaelic people shall by
his like bring back again the ancient simplicity and amplitude of
imagination. What is literature but the expression of moods by the
vehicle of symbol and incident? And are there not moods which need
heaven, hell, purgatory, and faeryland for their expression, no less
than this dilapidated earth? Nay, are there not moods which shall find
no expression unless there be men who dare to mix heaven, hell,
purgatory, and faeryland together, or even to set the heads of beasts
to the bodies of men, or to thrust the souls of men into the heart of
rocks? Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey
the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is
true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.

William Butler Yeats