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Happy and Unhappy Theologians


A mayo woman once said to me, "I knew a servant girl who hung herself
for the love of God. She was lonely for the priest and her
society,[FN#5] and hung herself to the banisters with a scarf. She was
no sooner dead than she became white as a lily, and if it had been
murder or suicide she would have become black as black. They gave her
Christian burial, and the priest said she was no sooner dead than she
was with the Lord. So nothing matters that you do for the love of God."
I do not wonder at the pleasure she has in telling this story, for she
herself loves all holy things with an ardour that brings them quickly
to her lips. She told me once that she never hears anything described
in a sermon that she does not afterwards see with her eyes. She has
described to me the gates of Purgatory as they showed themselves to her
eyes, but I remember nothing of the description except that she could
not see the souls in trouble but only the gates. Her mind continually
dwells on what is pleasant and beautiful. One day she asked me what
month and what flower were the most beautiful. When I answered that I
did not know, she said, "the month of May, because of the Virgin, and
the lily of the valley, because it never sinned, but came pure out of
the rocks," and then she asked, "what is the cause of the three cold
months of winter?" I did not know even that, and so she said, "the sin
of man and the vengeance of God." Christ Himself was not only blessed,
but perfect in all manly proportions in her eyes, so much do beauty and
holiness go together in her thoughts. He alone of all men was exactly
six feet high, all others are a little more or a little less.

[FN#5] The religious society she had belonged to.

Her thoughts and her sights of the people of faery are pleasant and
beautiful too, and I have never heard her call them the Fallen Angels.
They are people like ourselves, only better-looking, and many and many
a time she has gone to the window to watch them drive their waggons
through the sky, waggon behind waggon in long line, or to the door to
hear them singing and dancing in the Forth. They sing chiefly, it
seems, a song called "The Distant Waterfall," and though they once
knocked her down she never thinks badly of them. She saw them most
easily when she was in service in King's County, and one morning a
little while ago she said to me, "Last night I was waiting up for the
master and it was a quarter-past eleven. I heard a bang right down on
the table. 'King's County all over,' says I, and I laughed till I was
near dead. It was a warning I was staying too long. They wanted the
place to themselves." I told her once of somebody who saw a faery and
fainted, and she said, "It could not have been a faery, but some bad
thing, nobody could faint at a faery. It was a demon. I was not afraid
when they near put me, and the bed under me, out through the roof. I
wasn't afraid either when you were at some work and I heard a thing
coming flop-flop up the stairs like an eel, and squealing. It went to
all the doors. It could not get in where I was. I would have sent it
through the universe like a flash of fire. There was a man in my place,
a tearing fellow, and he put one of them down. He went out to meet it
on the road, but he must have been told the words. But the faeries are
the best neighbours. If you do good to them they will do good to you,
but they don't like you to be on their path." Another time she said to
me, "They are always good to the poor."


There is, however, a man in a Galway village who can see nothing but
wickedness. Some think him very holy, and others think him a little
crazed, but some of his talk reminds one of those old Irish visions of
the Three Worlds, which are supposed to have given Dante the plan of
the Divine Comedy. But I could not imagine this man seeing Paradise. He
is especially angry with the people of faery, and describes the faun-
like feet that are so common among them, who are indeed children of
Pan, to prove them children of Satan. He will not grant that "they
carry away women, though there are many that say so," but he is certain
that they are "as thick as the sands of the sea about us, and they
tempt poor mortals."

He says, "There is a priest I know of was looking along the ground
like as if he was hunting for something, and a voice said to him, 'If
you want to see them you'll see enough of them,' and his eyes were
opened and he saw the ground thick with them. Singing they do be
sometimes, and dancing, but all the time they have cloven feet." Yet he
was so scornful of unchristian things for all their dancing and singing
that he thinks that "you have only to bid them begone and they will go.
It was one night," he says, "after walking back from Kinvara and down
by the wood beyond I felt one coming beside me, and I could feel the
horse he was riding on and the way he lifted his legs, but they do not
make a sound like the hoofs of a horse. So I stopped and turned around
and said, very loud, 'Be off!' and he went and never troubled me after.
And I knew a man who was dying, and one came on his bed, and he cried
out to it, 'Get out of that, you unnatural animal!' and it left him.
Fallen angels they are, and after the fall God said, 'Let there be
Hell,' and there it was in a moment." An old woman who was sitting by
the fire joined in as he said this with "God save us, it's a pity He
said the word, and there might have been no Hell the day," but the seer
did not notice her words. He went on, "And then he asked the devil what
would he take for the souls of all the people. And the devil said
nothing would satisfy him but the blood of a virgin's son, so he got
that, and then the gates of Hell were opened." He understood the story,
it seems, as if it were some riddling old folk tale.

"I have seen Hell myself. I had a sight of it one time in a vision. It
had a very high wall around it, all of metal, and an archway, and a
straight walk into it, just like what 'ud be leading into a gentleman's
orchard, but the edges were not trimmed with box, but with red-hot
metal. And inside the wall there were cross-walks, and I'm not sure
what there was to the right, but to the left there were five great
furnaces, and they full of souls kept there with great chains. So I
turned short and went away, and in turning I looked again at the wall,
and I could see no end to it.

"And another time I saw Purgatory. It seemed to be in a level place,
and no walls around it, but it all one bright blaze, and the souls
standing in it. And they suffer near as much as in Hell, only there are
no devils with them there, and they have the hope of Heaven.

"And I heard a call to me from there, 'Help me to come out o' this!'
And when I looked it was a man I used to know in the army, an Irishman,
and from this county, and I believe him to be a descendant of King
O'Connor of Athenry.

"So I stretched out my hand first, but then I called out, 'I'd be
burned in the flames before I could get within three yards of you.' So
then he said, 'Well, help me with your prayers,' and so I do.

"And Father Connellan says the same thing, to help the dead with your
prayers, and he's a very clever man to make a sermon, and has a great
deal of cures made with the Holy Water he brought back from Lourdes."


William Butler Yeats