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´╗┐Title: Stories of Red Hanrahan
Author: Yeats, W. B. (William Butler), 1865-1939
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Stories of Red Hanrahan" ***

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By W.B. Yeats




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.


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

'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

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

'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.


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

     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

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

'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.'


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

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

'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.


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

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

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

'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

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

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!'


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

   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

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.


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

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.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Stories of Red Hanrahan" ***

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