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The Old Town

I fell, one night some fifteen years ago, into what seemed the power
of faery.

I had gone with a young man and his sister--friends and relations of
my own--to pick stories out of an old countryman; and we were coming
home talking over what he had told us. It was dark, and our
imaginations were excited by his stories of apparitions, and this may
have brought us, unknown to us, to the threshold, between sleeping and
waking, where Sphinxes and Chimaeras sit open-eyed and where there are
always murmurings and whisperings. I cannot think that what we saw was
an imagination of the waking mind. We had come under some trees that
made the road very dark, when the girl saw a bright light moving slowly
across the road. Her brother and myself saw nothing, and did not see
anything until we had walked for about half-an-hour along the edge of
the river and down a narrow lane to some fields where there was a
ruined church covered with ivy, and the foundations of what was called
"the Old Town," which had been burned down, it was said, in Cromwell's
day. We had stood for some few minutes, so far as I can recollect,
looking over the fields full of stones and brambles and elder-bushes,
when I saw a small bright light on the horizon, as it seemed, mounting
up slowly towards the sky; then we saw other faint lights for a minute
or two, and at last a bright flame like the flame of a torch moving
rapidly over the river. We saw it all in such a dream, and it seems all
so unreal, that I have never written of it until now, and hardly ever
spoken of it, and even when thinking, because of some unreasoning
impulse, I have avoided giving it weight in the argument. Perhaps I
have felt that my recollections of things seen when the sense of
reality was weakened must be untrustworthy. A few months ago, however,
I talked it over with my two friends, and compared their somewhat
meagre recollections with my own. That sense of unreality was all the
more wonderful because the next day I heard sounds as unaccountable as
were those lights, and without any emotion of unreality, and I remember
them with perfect distinctness and confidence. The girl was sitting
reading under a large old-fashioned mirror, and I was reading and
writing a couple of yards away, when I heard a sound as if a shower of
peas had been thrown against the mirror, and while I was looking at it
I heard the sound again, and presently, while I was alone in the room,
I heard a sound as if something much bigger than a pea had struck the
wainscoting beside my head. And after that for some days came other
sights and sounds, not to me but to the girl, her brother, and the
servants. Now it was a bright light, now it was letters of fire that
vanished before they could be read, now it was a heavy foot moving
about in the seemingly empty house. One wonders whether creatures who
live, the country people believe, wherever men and women have lived in
earlier times, followed us from the ruins of the old town? or did they
come from the banks of the river by the trees where the first light
had shone for a moment?


1902.

William Butler Yeats